SARAJEVO (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was on Tuesday set to meet Bosnian leaders at the start of a Balkans tour during which she is expected to push them to overcome ethnic divisions to achieve European Union and NATO membership and seal peace. Clinton will be joined by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo. “The incentive of European Union membership in the past has been a strong incentive for countries of the region to reform their economies, to advance their democracies, to make peace with their neighbours,” a state department official, who did not want to be named, explained ahead of the trip.

 Clinton last visited Bosnia, as well as Serbia and Kosovo — which emerged out of the 1990s collapse of the former Yugoslavia — in 2010. In Sarajevo, she will also stress the importance of sticking to existing agreements especially the US-brokered 1995 Dayton peace agreement which divides the country into two semi-autonomous entities — the Serbs’ Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. The statelets each have their own government and are linked only by a weak central administration. Some 17 years after the end of the devastating 1992-95 war between its Muslims, Serbs and Croats, Bosnia is more divided than ever.

The Serbs have fiercely opposed calls by the Muslim community and the international community for central institutions to be strengthened and have repeatedly warned that their entity could break away and negotiate EU entry separately.

“We are disappointed that the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have not put the interests of the country first oftentimes and instead have promoted narrow ethnic or party or personal agendas,” the state department spokesman said.

Clinton and Ashton are due to meet Bosnia’s three-man presidency around 1 pm (1200 GMT).

Bosnian political analyst Milos Solaja told BHR1 national radio on Tuesday that the EU and the US would not “use the carrot and stick policy”.

“They will simply make it clear that delays (in the reforms needed to qualify for EU and NATO membership) will have consequences for Bosnia’s people and its leaders,” he said.

Sarajevo lags behind its neighbours in their progress towards joining the EU as it is the only Balkans country that has yet to apply for EU membership.

After Bosnia, Clinton and Ashton will travel to Belgrade later Tuesday to meet President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Ivica Dacic to press Serbia to re-start the EU-brokered dialogue with Kosovo.

Serbia rejects Kosovo’s unilateral 2008 proclamation of independence, which is recognised by some 90 states including 22 of the EU’s 27 members and the United States.

Talks between Belgrade and Pristina, launched in March 2011 under EU auspices, were suspended before May’s elections in Serbia, won by nationalists. However, two weeks ago Dacic met his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci in Brussels signalling a new phase.

Serbia is an EU candidate, and Kosovo hopes to formalise ties, but the bloc has made clear to both that they must restart talks and show concrete results.

Serbian analysts said the visit at this time was a way to step up pressure on Belgrade and Pristina to implement agreements already concluded in the talks earlier on freedom of movement and border management.

After her stop in Belgrade Clinton travels on to Pristina where she will meet Kosovo Albanian leaders Wednesday during the day.

The secretary of state will end her tour in Croatia and Albania, which joined the NATO transatlantic military alliance in 2009. Of the six ex-Yugoslav nations, only Slovenia has so far joined the European Union in 2004, while Croatia is due to become a member in July.