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Monday, June 23, 2003


VATICAN CITY, JUN 22, 2003 (VIS) - When Pope John Paul landed this morning at Banja Luka International Airport in Bosnia-Herzegovina, he began his 101st international pastoral trip and his second visit to this Balkan country, having travelled to Sarajevo, the capital, on April 12 and 13, 1997.

Formerly part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Bosnia declared its independence on January 9, 1992. Shortly afterwards, war broke out among the three ethnic groups - Croatian, Bosnian-Muslim and Serb - and ended only with the intervention of United Nations and NATO forces.

On November 21, 1995 the Dayton Accords approved the integrity and sovereignty of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, even though it was divided into two entities, each having its own parliament and government: the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Croatian-Muslim: 50 percent of the territory) and the Serbian Republic or Srpska (49 percent).

The Federation is led by a president and vice-president, alternatively Croatian and Muslim. Legislative power is in the hands of Parliament, which has a Chamber of Deputies (140 members) and a Peoples' Chamber (74 members). From an administrative standpoint the Federation is divided into 10 totally autonomous cantons. The Serbian Republic is also led by a president and vice-president and its National Assembly has 140 members.

Brcko is a special administrative unit that does not belong to either of the above governments but rather is under the jurisdiction of the central government of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The Collegial Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina is composed of three members elected for four-year terms who represent the three ethnic groups: 1 Croat, 1 Muslim, 1 Serb. Each of the three members presides on a rotating basis of 8 months. The central parliament is formed of two chambers: the Chamber of Deputies (42 directly elected deputies: two-thirds Croat-Muslim, one-third Serb) with its central offices in Sarajevo, and the Peoples' Chamber (5 delegates elected for each ethnic group), which meets in Lukavica. The central executive branch is composed of a Council of Ministers, named by the presidency, which is comprised of six members, each of whom occupies the position of prime minister for eight months on a rotating basis.

The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina is Sarajevo whose population is approximately 360,000 people. Banja Luka is the second largest city with a population of 143,079. The national language is Serbian-Croatian. Bosnians are 43.7 percent of the populace, Serbs 31.4, Croats 17.3 and the remaining 7.6 percent are other ethnic groups. Sunni Muslims comprise 43 percent of the population, Orthodox 30, Catholics 11.3 and others are 15 percent.

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