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Bosnia: Envoys Urge Commitment To Justice And Economic Reforms

  • Robert McMahon

The international community's high representatives in Bosnia say the gains of nationalists in recent elections were more a protest vote over stalled reforms than a sign of new ethnic friction. Paddy Ashdown and Jacques Klein urged the UN Security Council to support a tough new stage of reforms to strengthen the rule of law and revitalize the Bosnian economy. Ashdown also vowed to offer his authority, if necessary, to crack down on those exporting illegal arms to Iraq. RFE/RL's Robert McMahon reports on their appearance at UN headquarters.

United Nations, 24 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Two key officials charged with overseeing reforms in Bosnia-Herzegovina say ineffective leadership, not hard-line nationalism, was the main reason moderate candidates generally lost out to nationalists in elections earlier this month.

The international community's high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, and UN envoy Jacques Klein, said yesterday that they believe Bosnians are eager to move ahead with reforms to revive their economy and establish the rule of law. They urged the international community to provide the resources and political will to move reforms ahead. Ashdown, the fourth high representative for Bosnia, was speaking to the council for the first time.

Klein was making his final address as UN envoy. He will transfer the mandate of police and judicial improvements to the European Union at the end of the year after overseeing the largest police reform and restructuring operation in UN history.

Ashdown expressed alarm at Bosnia's debt and falling aid levels. He vowed to move against corruption and an entrenched bureaucracy, which he said are robbing the country of economic initiative, as well as hundreds of millions of euros in revenue.

He told reporters in a news conference later that one example of Bosnia's problems is that it takes 36 separate actions to establish a business.

"It takes 100 days to establish a legal business in [Bosnia], three in Slovenia. We have got to take a bulldozer toward bureaucratic regulations to open up Bosnia-Herzegovina to enterprise, to small businesses, to release that internal human talent [in Bosnia] and, indeed, the investment capacity, internal investment capacity, and when we've done that we'll be in a position to bid for external private investment, which is the only means by which we can fill the gap of declining international aid."

The weak economy, he said, is undermining one of the country's great successes -- the high number of returning refugees. Nearly one million refugees have returned to Bosnia since the end of its civil war seven years ago, including 350,000 to areas where they are minorities.

About 60 percent of claims for the return of property have been solved, the high representative said. But news reports from the region say many owners are not returning to their properties but are selling them.

Klein said that in some cases, refugees returning to areas where they are ethnic minorities have shown courage and resilience but are unable to cope with the economic deprivations.

"You have right now donor fatigue, compassion fatigue, and political fatigue. At the very time when UNHCR has done a remarkably good job at facilitating refugee return, the refugees come back without the economic infrastructure assistance they need to convince them to stay."

Klein also expressed frustration in his efforts at tackling organized crime and the country's problem in stopping the trafficking of women. Last week, 11 local police officers assigned to a special squad combating human trafficking and prostitution were dismissed by the UN for aiding the rings.

But Klein said there has been less publicity for the successes in the antitrafficking program. He said it has led to the closure of half the country's brothels and the repatriation of more than 200 victims.

Trafficking in women remains a tough problem in the Balkans, he said, because of the economic troubles of countries like Ukraine and Moldova, the origin of many women lured to Bosnia with the promise of good jobs.

"When we raid a bar, three of the women say, 'Help us get the hell out of here. We didn't know what we were getting into.' But five or six say, 'Leave me alone. I'm making good money here. I don't need your help.' Then what the hell do I do, especially if they often have legal documentation?"

During the Security Council hearing, a U.S. diplomat asked Ashdown if he would use his powers against those found to be transferring arms to Iraq. That was a reference to the sale of weapons parts to Iraq by the Orao defense firm, sales that the government of the Bosnian Serb entity admitted to yesterday.

Ashdown said the issue was a matter mainly for UN officials and the NATO-led peacekeeping force but that he was prepared to use his powers to help end such activities.

"If there is anybody in Bosnia-Herzegovina who is participating in breaking UN Security Council resolutions, then that is a matter of the very gravest importance which has to be dealt with immediately and powerfully -- and will be."

The international high representative was given the authority to impose laws and dismiss Bosnian officials under agreements that ended Bosnia's interethnic war. Ashdown yesterday said his goal is to make Bosnia a business-friendly, politically efficient country, with the most trusted legal system in the region.