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Bosnia: UN To End Mission, But Says Work Still Remains

  • Nikola Krastev

In an open briefing to the UN Security Council yesterday, the special envoy to Bosnia, Jacques Klein, pointed to corruption, lack of political commitment, the absence of the rule of law, and the presence of war criminals at large as major obstacles on the path toward democratization. Klein announced the UN's intention to close its mission in Bosnia by the end of the year, though he acknowledged that such a decision may seem "paradoxical."

United Nations, 20 June 2002 (RFE/RL) -- At the UN Security Council yesterday, Jacques Klein, the UN's special envoy for Bosnia, announced Secretary-General Kofi Annan's recommendation to close the UN mission in Bosnia by the end of the year.

Klein admitted that such a recommendation may seem "paradoxical" given the current state of affairs there. But he said the UN believes its mission in Bosnia is "on the verge" of successfully concluding its core mandate. He did not elaborate. He said it is still crucial, however, for the international community to continue its support for the former Yugoslav republic.

In his report to the council, Klein said Bosnia continues to be "a work in progress" and that there are three fundamental impediments to internal stability and external security: the lack of political commitment by the citizens to the state, the continued presence of war criminals at large, and the absence of the rule of law. Until these issues are resolved, Klein said, the international community cannot reduce or end its engagement.

"The Herzegovinian Croats have followed the siren song of a criminal elite that has enriched itself while politically and economically impoverishing its followers. Until the internal political settlement is achieved, the situation remains precarious, aggravated by the continued presence of three costly armies in one state. As long as these three armies view each other as the enemy, SFOR [the NATO-led Stabilization Force] is trapped in its role as a stabilizing force without which other progress is impossible."

The special envoy said that elections in October are an opportunity for change in Bosnia. Citizens, particularly youth, must be encouraged to reject the failed ultranationalist parties and politicians of the past and vote instead for a European future, Klein said. However, the democratic process in the country will be seriously tainted, Klein warned, as long as indicted war criminals continue to remain at large.

"As long as indicted war criminals, particularly [former Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic and [Bosnian Serb General] Ratko Mladic remain at large, political stabilization is not possible, reconciliation is not possible, and the rule of law cannot be achieved. The goal must now be their arrest. They are an albatross around our necks, overshadowing everything we are trying to achieve. Their continued liberty emboldens the hard-liners on all sides to resist and intimidate the moderates. More than any other single act, the arrest of these two war criminals will change the entire complexion of national politics."

A UN-sponsored legal survey in the country conducted from 1998 to 2000 showed conclusively that the entire legal and judicial system of Bosnia was dysfunctional. Klein noted in his report that serious reforms were not undertaken until this year. "There is an imbalance between the components of the rule of law. Local police and corrections personnel have reached a base line of professionalism and democratic policing. All other elements -- namely courts, judges, prosecutors, legal codes, the rules of evidence and criminal procedures, and the witness protection program -- still require a radical reform and restructuring."

The result of the absence of rule-of-law components, he said, is that organized crime and political corruption threaten the viability of the state and the security of the region. Each week there are new revelations of high-level corruption and illegality. Recent examples are a bank-fraud case, Klein said, that appears to have been a scam by nationals leaders to rob the Croats of more than $100 million. Illegal arms sales to Kosovo extremists and the detection of massive fraud in customs and in certain ministries are other fresh examples, he said.

"It is really not possible to accurately quantify the extent of corruption. But one telling figure is that the Central Bank of Bosnia-Herzegovina returned over 6.3 billion deutsche marks to the German Bundesbank when the euro was introduced this year."

Among the achievements of the UN mission in Bosnia, Klein cited improved security and a more efficient police apparatus. The fact that security is no longer a major problem for the return of refugees and displaced persons in Bosnia is a sea-change in police performance, he says, adding that the country could soon have all the crime-fighting apparatus of a modern state.