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Yugoslavia: Kostunica Appeals For Patience

  • Robert McMahon

Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has called on Western nations to have patience with Belgrade's pace of reforms and lend expert and material support. Kostunica made the appeal last night in New York after receiving an award from the East-West Institute for his progress in reforming Yugoslavia and improving relations with its neighbors. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon attended the ceremony and filed this report.

New York, 9 May 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica has appealed to Western governments to invest in the reconstruction of Yugoslavia and have patience with its efforts at seeking reconciliation after the war crimes of the past decade. Kostunica used the occasion of an awards ceremony in New York yesterday (8 May) to ask for understanding from Western nations. He urged support for his government's attempts at carrying out legal, financial, and political reforms.

He said Yugoslavia has had to face tough problems this year, including armed rebellion by ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia, a Montenegrin separatist movement, and mounting calls for independence by ethnic Albanian Kosovars, which he called unacceptable.

Kostunica said his government has already begun what he described as the "painful process" of reconciling with its past, including the commission of crimes against humanity. He expressed frustration at pressure from Western states to extradite former President Slobodan Milosevic, an indicted war criminal.

"We have to cope with a Western reluctance to give us a chance to build our institutions and establish the rule of law by allowing our judiciary to implement national laws and try war crimes suspects among the others."

Earlier yesterday, Kostunica told reporters at United Nations headquarters that Yugoslavia needed to formalize its legal arrangement with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague before it could address its obligations on war crimes matters. He said he supported the enactment of a federal law on cooperation with The Hague.

Kostunica today is scheduled to make his first visit to Washington for high-level meetings with U.S. officials. He is expected to face further pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell to transfer Milosevic to the war crimes tribunal.

But Kostunica also said he was looking forward to discussing with U.S. officials ways of working together to rebuild his country and the Balkans. He spoke of a common enemy that was impeding the region's economic development.

"Our enemy is poverty in my country and the region at large, fragile institutions, and the non-existent rule of law. Our enemy is destabilization of the Balkans."

The Yugoslav president spoke last night after receiving the annual Statesman of the Year award by the East-West Institute, a New York-based organization that promotes peace and dialogue between the West and the former communist countries in transition.

The institute, which is marking its 20th anniversary, praised Kostunica for his efforts so far in transforming the war-ravaged country into a young democracy. It also cited his moves to make Yugoslavia part of the larger European community.

Kostunica received his award on the same day Yugoslavia regained admittance to the World Bank, from which it had been cut off since 1993. World Bank President James Wolfensohn began his keynote address last night with the news that Yugoslavia had regained membership. "At 1 o'clock today, Yugoslavia was admitted as the 183rd member of the World Bank. This is a tribute to the president and his colleagues and recreates a new link between us and his country."

In his address, Wolfensohn cited an alarming rise in poverty in many of the former communist nations now pursuing market reforms. He stressed the need for structural reforms in governments throughout the region, the importance of combating corruption, and the necessity for the sharing of knowledge and expertise.

Kostunica later expounded on this theme for the Balkans, saying major investors will be deterred until they are confident the region is committed to the rule of law. He said his government had undertaken a number of reforms, including an anti-corruption drive and efforts to restructure its banking system, ensure proper privatization, and create a safe investment climate.

He urged Western nations to join Yugoslavia in a partnership for reform, but called for a different approach than the one taken following wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.

"We do not want you to spend your taxpayers' money the way you did in Bosnia and Kosovo on expensive fact-finding missions and two- or three-week assignments. Don't use our professionals as your translators and drivers, but send us some of your own to advise us and work hand-in-hand with our experts."

Yugoslavia has now rejoined the two key international lending institutions -- it regained membership in the International Monetary Fund five months ago -- and is in line for some crucial loans.

The World Bank's executive board has approved temporary eligibility for Yugoslavia to the International Development Association and says that up to $540 million in IDA lending could now be made available over a three-year period.

The association is a World Bank entity that lends to poor states unable to borrow on market terms. As a condition for such loans, the borrower must carry out policies that promote growth and reduce poverty.