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Bosnia: Progress Cited, But Country Is Still Seen As Balkan Test Case

  • Robert McMahon

The UN special representative in Bosnia, Jacques Klein, says the country remains a test case for the international community's treatment of Balkan disputes. Bosnia is making steady progress in establishing the rule of law, Klein says, but extremists and wavering international support can still undermine the country's peace plan. RFE/RL's UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 18 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Hours before its 15 representatives departed on a mission to Kosovo, the UN Security Council heard a warning about threats to the peace process in nearby Bosnia.

The head of the UN mission in Bosnia, Jacques Klein, told the council Friday (15 June) that a series of violent disturbances in recent months shows that ethnic extremists remain a force in the country.

Klein predicted further disturbances this summer instigated by nationalists retaliating against what they see as more intrusive implementation of the Dayton peace plan. In incidents this spring in Trebinje and Banja Luka, for example, Bosnian Serb crowds disrupted ceremonies intended to mark the reconstruction of mosques -- a key part of reconciliation efforts.

Klein said the international community needs to maintain a forceful presence for both the sake of Bosnia and the region.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina is the test case. If international intervention fails there, we abandon the hopes of a new generation that is just beginning to exercise democracy. And more importantly, we sound the death knell for multiethnic states anywhere in the Balkans, with grave implications for peace and stability in the former republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, and elsewhere."

Klein received broad expressions of support from the council, which visited Kosovo on 16-17 June to assess conditions ahead of provincial elections scheduled for November. Council members also said they would look for signs of how the fighting in neighboring Macedonia is affecting Kosovo's peace efforts.

The council next week is expected to renew the UN mission in Bosnia for another year.

Klein told the council he aims to finish the mission's core objectives at the end of next year, in particular in the area of police reform and restructuring. But he said political interference by the country's various ethnic leaders is obstructing broader reforms.

He cited attempts to establish a Croat self-government in parts of Herzegovina, the failure to reach agreement on a permanent electoral law, and the failure to implement the Constitutional Court's decisions on the equality of citizens throughout the country.

"The new leaders have shown little will to move away from the personal and sectarian positions in the interests of the citizens and the country as a whole. Their failure to exercise real leadership is directly contributing to the turbulent political climate."

But progress in other areas has been encouraging. Displaced persons and refugees continue to return in high numbers. The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says more than 22,000 returned during the first four months of this year, an increase of 100 percent over the same period last year. The re-possession of prewar homes is also taking place at a steady rate.

Bosnia's border service is now a multiethnic state-level institution deployed along nearly two-thirds of the country's frontiers. Klein says it has made strong progress in reducing illegal migration and trafficking, and in anti-smuggling measures.

The director of the border service last month signed an agreement with Yugoslav and Croat officials on a new regional cooperation arrangement to combat illegal migration and organized crime. Klein says the local capacity to fight international crime will be further strengthened by the opening of an Interpol office in Sarajevo.

But Klein also said that without a sustained and consistent international strategy for bringing Bosnia closer to Europe, the country will not achieve meaningful reform. He criticized what he called a "piecemeal" approach, involving a loose coordination of multiple agencies involved with Bosnia.

The UN envoy appealed to the Security Council to become involved in long-range planning for Bosnia.

"What is most needed is what has been most lacking -- a credible, and practical, vision to assist the region, shed its Balkan past, embrace its European future, and move from the Yugo to the Euro."

The acting U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, James Cunningham, said that with the end of the UN mission's mandate in sight, it was time for the council to review an exit strategy for Bosnia.

"I urge all council members and governments present today to take heed of Mr. Klein's comments about the need to plan ahead and to ensure the most effective international and regional cooperation possible. For that indeed will be essential not just [in] meeting that goal but meeting the aspirations we have set for ourselves in supporting [the] Dayton [peace accords] and in supporting Bosnia."

U.S. engagement in Bosnia is seen as crucial by the country's leaders as well as by UN officials. During his visit to Europe last week, President George W. Bush repeatedly assured European leaders that the United States remains committed to contributing to Balkan stability. The United States deploys about 3,500 troops in the 22,000-member NATO-led Bosnia Stabilization Force. It also contributes about 150 officers to the 1,800-member international police task force in Bosnia.