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EU: Initiatives Proceed In Bosnia, Algeria; Officials Meet CIS, Baltic Delegations

  • Joel Blocker

Brussels, 23 January 1998 (RFE/RL) -- In the past several days, the European Union has been involved in foreign-policy initiatives in Bosnia and Algeria. In addition, yesterday the EU sought in a Brussels meeting with delegations from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine to improve the administration of its so-called TACIS aid program to CIS countries.

At the current Riga summit meeting of the Council of Baltic Sea States, the EU is represented by one of its most senior officials. He is Jacques Santer, the President of the Union's Executive Commission, its chief executive body. An EU official says that Santer will address the group today on the EU's relations with Russia and on cooperation in higher education.

Here are brief accounts of all these EU foreign-policy actions:

--The EU this week allocated more than $110 million in aid to Bosnia. Most of it, $108 million, is to help facilitate the return of tens of thousands of Bosnian refugees this year. Another $2.8 million, allocated in 18 separate contracts signed in Sarajevo, will support Bosnian independent media. Six of the contracts were with independent media organizations in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity.

On Wednesday (Jan. 21) Hans van den Broek, EU Commissioner for relations with Central and East European nations said that the EU's now de-centralized assistance to Bosnia was intended to do two things: support the recently elected government in Republika Srpska and help the return of refugees to all parts of Bosnia. He also said that widespread corruption in Bosnia remained what he called "one of the principal worries I have." Van den Broek explained: "We know that a lot of funds that should go into the national treasury is going into the wrong pockets."

Some analysts believe that the EU Commission feels frustrated not only by Bosnian corruption. They say the Commission is fed up by what it considers political wrangling in Bosnia and wants to circumvent the Sarajevo government by carrying out its aid projects directly with local and regional authorities. These analysts point to the EU Commission's proposal on Wednesday to speed up delivery of assistance as a reward to local Bosnian communities making superior efforts to comply with the 1996 Dayton peace accords on Bosnia.

--On Wednesday, too, the EU was finally able to deploy a three-man fact-finding mission in Algeria --for 24 hours. Hundreds of men, women and children have been massacred in the North African country in recent weeks, and tens of thousands more have been killed since 1992. According to the Government, all the murders were carried out by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists.

The three EU representatives were the deputy foreign ministers of Britain, Luxembourg and Austria --the so-called EU troika that is composed of countries that are the current, past and future presidents of the 15-nation group. Algeria had earlier turned down an EU proposal to send a mission of lower-level representatives.

Just at the time the mission was holding talks with the military-backed Algerian Government and opposition leaders, including Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf, a bomb exploded on a bus in the capital Algiers. Eye-witnesses said the blast killed at least one person and wounded more than 20 others.

Mission leader Derek Fatchett, Britain's deputy Foreign Secretary, briefed the press afterwards. He said that in its talks with all parties the EU officials had called for more openness on human-rights issues in the country. Fatchett also said, in his words: "We are disappointed that we failed to make contact with those directly affected by the massacres."

Foreign Minister Attaf and other high Algerian officials have severely criticized Britain, Germany and other EU nations for what they call "harboring" (that is, allowing to reside and protecting) Algerian Islamic extremists in their countries. During the mission's visit, President and former general Liamine Zeroual publicly demanded the EU end what he described as its "hypocritical game with terrorism."

Yesterday London-based opponents of the present Algerian Government, including a former prime minister --Abdelhamid Brahimi-- accused the nation's security forces of responsibility for the massacres in their homeland. Brahimi told a British parliamentary group dealing with human-rights questions that, in his phrase, "terror (in Algeria) is organized by the state."

--In Brussels Wednesday, representatives of enterprises and organizations in CIS states that receive EU aid under the Union's TACIS program met directly for the first time with businessmen, farmers and trade-union officials from the Union's member states. Their meeting constituted the first joint session of the EU's Economic and Social Committee --a consultative body made up of workers, employers and small businessmen, including farmers-- with delegations from Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The EU Commission says that from now on such meetings will be held regularly.

TACIS is a technical-assistance program to CIS member states and Mongolia, set up by the EU after the 1992 disintegration of the Soviet Union. A similar EU program, known as PHARE, dispenses aid to reforming Central and East European nations. In six years, TACIS alone has spent more than 3,000 million dollars.

As the EU has recently acknowledged, the problem is: where has the TACIS money gone? Participants in Wednesday's meeting admitted that a large part of the money has been lost in the EU's murky bureaucratic mechanisms. A Russian representative (Vladimir Kholmogorov, Vice President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) told the Tass news agency that a major part of TACIS funds had gone to foreign experts for their advice and services. But he added that many TACIS projects had been effective, especially a program for teaching and practical training of some 1,800 CIS managers at EU enterprises.

--In Riga, where the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) began its summit meeting this morning, Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkvas yesterday hailed a bilateral meeting between two of its chief participants --German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. Birkvas told the French News Agency (AFP) that, in his words, "these two figures provide a special significance to the decisions taken by the Council." He also said that the CBSS summit gave new impetus to Latvia's candidacy for EU membership.

So far, Estonia is the only one of the three Baltic states that has been chosen to begin substantive membership talks with the EU later this year (April). The attempts by Lithuania as well as Estonia and Latvia to join NATO have run into strong opposition from Russia.

Russia's relations with Estonia and Latvia are particularly difficult. Moscow has often charged both countries of discriminating against their resident Russian-speakers over citizenship standards and other issues. The two Baltic states deny the charges and have sought to meet the Council of Europe's criteria on citizenship legislation.

Moscow also has border disputes with both countries. An estimated 48 percent of Latvia's 2.6 million people and 30 percent of Estonia's 1.5 million residents are considered ethnic Russians.

Relations between Russia and Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have been complicated by last Friday's (Jan. 16) signing of a cooperation charter between the U.S. and the three Baltic states. Moscow complains that the charter takes no account of its own recent regional security proposals, including one for a 40 percent cut in troop and naval forces.

In his interview with AFP, Birkavs acknowledged Moscow might raise the issue of the cooperation charter in Riga. But he also said that the CBSS summit was not the place for discussions about what he called "hard security questions."