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International monitors to pull out of Bosnia's Brcko

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(SARAJEVO) - International monitors decided Wednesday to pull out of the sensitive Bosnian town of Brcko, whose neutral status has been a source of tensions in the ethnically-divided Balkan state.

"I decided today to end my functions as supervisor for Brcko," Roderick Moore, principal deputy of the international community's High Representative in Bosnia, told reporters.

He added that the offices of the High Representative in Brcko would be closed by August at the latest, and that any supervision of the town would then be handled by other offices in the country before a final decision is made on whether to halt monitoring completely.

Brcko was proclaimed a neutral district by an international arbitration tribunal in 1999, four years after the end of the war in Bosnia which split the country into two semi-autonomous entities -- Muslim-Croat Federation and Bosnian Serb Republika Srpska.

Serb authorities had rejected the court's decision to declare the town neutral and the Muslim-Croat Federation is opposed to the end of international supervision.

Moore said the withdrawal would be "a test for the institutions and for the leaders in Brcko to demonstrate (...) that all the progress thay made in the last 15 years is sustainable and that they can manage their affairs without intensive involvement of the international community."

Since March 2000, Brcko has since been placed under the authority of Bosnia's central government, and is run by a multi-ethnic administration, overseen by a top international representative.

Some 100,000 people were killed during the brutal war between Bosnia's Croats, Muslims and Serbs. The conflict left the country deeply divided along ethnic lines.

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