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Koschnik's Resignation is a Measure of Mostar's Problems

  • Charles Recknagel

Prague, Feb. 28 (RFE/RL) - Hans Koschnick, the European Union (EU) administrator in Mostar, resigned on Monday in a step analysts say is a measure of the difficulties still facing international efforts to re-unite the troubled city.

Koschnick said he would step down as administrator of the city - which is divided between rival Croat and Muslim communities - by July of this year at the latest. He told reporters in Brussels after giving his decision to EU leaders that he hoped to leave his post even earlier - possibly within four weeks - if a successor could be found.

Koschnick explained his decision as fulfilling a longstanding promise to his wife that he would step down when the time is right. He said that the correct time had come following this month's summit meeting in Rome on the Bosnia peace process. At that meeting, the presidents of Croatia and Bosnia vowed their renewed support for the EU's efforts to rebuild Mostar as a multi-ethnic city.

Koschnick decision to leave was greeted with regret by Germany's Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, who called Koschnick "the right man in the right place" for continuing to administer Mostar. But Kinkel said that his decision was understandable "given the daily pressures he faces."

For almost two years, Koschnick has wrestled with one of Bosnia's thorniest problems: how to persuade the Croats and Muslims of Mostar to live together again, after they fought face-to-face for ten months in 1993 and 1994. The fighting tore the city in half and ended when a U.S. initiative brought croats and muslims across Bosnian into an alliance against their mutual enemy, the Bosnian Serbs.

But correspondents say that many local leaders in Mostar, particularly on the Croat side, have never accepted the idea of the Croat-Muslim alliance, or that the the two sides can again live together. Local Croat leaders have sought instead to integrate their half of the city economically with Croatia.

Tensions reached a high point this month when Koschnick unveiled plans to revive the city's economic life by mapping out a large central business district open to both communities. The integrated city center was to be flanked on either side by three Croat neighborhoods and three Muslim neighborhoods.

Local Croat leaders responded to the plan by immediately calling for breaking off communications with the EU, and hundreds of angry croats stormed the EU headquarters demanding Koschnick's death. The protestors fired at least ten bullets at an armored car carrying Koschnick in an attempt to make good their threats.

A summit conference on the Bosnian peace in Rome, which came immediately after the riot, sought to put the re-unification of the city back on track. President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, who is reported to exert influence over Bosnian Croat leaders, agreed to work with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to settle differences over the city.

Both sides also asked the European Union to consider extending its mandate for administering the city - which is due to expire in July - an additional six months to the end of this year.

But analysts say that the new promises of presidential cooperation may have come too late for Koschnick personally, who is reported to be exhausted by struggling with local leaders, and frustrated by the international efforts failures to bring them to heel.

Following the Rome meeting, Koschnick hailed the summit as "the effective beginning of the re-unification" of Mostar. Just a little over a week later, he said he would be leaving his post.

While making his announcement, Koschnick said that it was time for fresh faces to represent the EU in Mostar. Looking ahead to a possible extension of the EU mandate, he said: "we have nine months for the transition from international administration of the city to administration by the Croats and Muslims themselves. He said he hoped his successor would have a more peaceful time than he had.

Koschnick has said he will continue to work for humanitarian missions for Bosnia. No successor has yet been named.