United Nations, 14 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- United Nations officials yesterday launched a donor's conference aimed at raising funds to help spur the rehabilitation of Srebrenica, site of the worst massacre of the Bosnian war.
The UN's special envoy for Bosnia, Jacques Klein, told reporters before the start of the conference that the Srebrenica Regional Recovery Initiative will seek to raise $12.5 million for the town and region.
Klein said it is time for the international community to try to address the problems of Srebrenica despite the shame connected with it. The town was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 despite its designation as a UN safe haven and more than 7,000 Muslim males were massacred.
"Srebrenica has been a festering sore which we've tried to treat over the past five years in a [piecemeal] fashion, but we've never tried to cure, and indeed it was under sanction: People were even afraid to speak of it," Klein said.
UN officials say the three-year initiative will aim to improve housing in Srebrenica, try to boost the economy in the area, especially agro-business, and to build reconciliation and a civil society there. Those attending the conference in New York include Bosnian President Beriz Belkic and the prime minister of Bosnia's Republika Srpska, Mladen Ivanic.
Klein said UN officials are hoping to raise the $12.5 million by the end of the year and then begin the three-year program early next year.
UN officials stressed that this was not a full-scale development program but a modest attempt to bring about some positive change in the traumatized region.
The director of the UN Development Program's bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States is Kalman Mizsei. He told the press conference yesterday that Bosnia still has special need of assistance because its economic transition to a free-market economy has barely begun.
He said aid money that has already poured into Bosnia has dealt mostly with crisis conditions and the country has not yet begun a sustainable development path. Initiatives like the Srebrenica recovery plan, Mizsei said, serve to help Bosnians, as well as create a climate for foreign investment, which is greatly lacking.
"There is such a great perceived risk in the country that the investors are not yet willing to put their money there but they are very eager to explore opportunities as the consolidation of the country goes on," Mizsei said.
Mizsei said the population of Srebrenica has shrunk to 7,500 from a pre-war level of 37,000. It is located in a part of the country -- Republika Srpska -- with a poverty level of 68 percent.
Despite economic hardship and trauma surrounding Srebrenica, UN officials say people have begun to return to the area. They say the recovery initiative will provide some infrastructure improvements, seed money for small business projects, and will propose a collective housing development for women who lost their male relatives in the Srebrenica massacre.
Klein said there are thousands of women who lost male relatives and a number will not want to return.
"I think it's perfectly understandable that some will never go back. The goal is to allow those who want to come back to come back, to allow the Serbs who want to leave, to leave, and many of those are often being intimidated into not leaving," Klein said.
Klein said many of the Serbs who now live in Bosnia were displaced by the war and have no connection to those who perpetrated the massacre. He said UN officials have faced no opposition from Bosnian Serb politicians to plans to rehabilitate Srebrenica.