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UN: Klein Notes Progress And Unfinished Business In Bosnia

  • Robert McMahon

The United Nations this month concludes its mission to overhaul Bosnia's police and border forces. The UN Security Council has hailed the mission as a success while urging leaders of Bosnia's fragile governing structures to press through with badly needed economic reforms. The man who guided the UN mission for the past three years, Jacques Klein, spoke with RFE/RL about Bosnia's transformation, as well as its many unhealed wounds.

United Nations, 17 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In one signal of just how far Bosnia-Herzegovina has progressed, a seven-year UN mission wraps up its work there this month amid congratulations for strengthening peace and security.

The UN envoy in charge of the mission, Jacques Klein, has spent much time in recent weeks recounting its achievements. The mission helped put in place a full-fledged state border service. It transformed the police force from 40,000 wartime personnel to 16,000 newly trained officers. Its new standards have contributed to the return of hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees.

Klein also noted the emerging symbols of statehood -- flag, passport, license plate -- and what he calls the hardest currency in the region.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL at UN headquarters, Klein credited Bosnian citizens with many of these achievements. "The fact that you have freedom of movement today and a police force that's relatively professional, the fact that the currency works, all those things are to the credit of the citizens. The citizens want to get on with their lives," Klein said.

But Klein, a veteran U.S. diplomat, also said there is unfinished business in many places. Bosnia's weak rule of law, he said, is discouraging crucial foreign direct investment. Indicted war criminals like former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, remain at large, poisoning efforts at reconciliation.

Klein noted with particular concern the failure to integrate Bosnia's armies and universities among its dominant Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian ethnic groups. "You have three armies structured ethnically [and] university structures functioning ethnically. Now those are impediments to really building a state," Klein said.

The United Nations is handing over the responsibility for ongoing police training to the European Union, effective 1 January. The international community's high representative continues to oversee the country's general reform efforts, holding the power to impose laws and dismiss Bosnian officials under agreements that ended Bosnia's war.

Klein praised the emphasis that the new high representative, Paddy Ashdown, has placed on strengthening the rule of law. But he said the country's legal structures should have been a focus of international reform efforts soon after the signing of the Dayton accords in 1995.

Bosnia's civil war, in which more than 200,000 people were killed, was especially harsh on civilians. Women and children and prisoners of war were killed. Women and girls were systematically raped. Property theft was rampant.

There have been proposals to hold a truth-and-reconciliation commission patterned after the model used in post-apartheid South Africa. But Klein said there are practical problems to mounting such an effort in Bosnia. "In South Africa, you had a construct where, when you admit your crime you'd receive amnesty, and the victim would receive some kind of compensation. No one knows how to do that in Bosnia, so we're long a way from any kind of truth and reconciliation," Klein said.

But Klein has promoted special efforts at reconciliation and revival in Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. They include promoting a Srebrenica Regional Recovery Plan aimed at spending $12.5 million in development projects during the next three years to try to revitalize the traumatized region.

The high representative for Bosnia has established the Srebrenica/Potocari Memorial and Cemetery, and there are plans to begin the final burial of victims' remains early next year.

But Klein said many of the wives and female relatives of the Srebrenica victims do not want to return. Klein has appealed for continued UN support for the Potocari Memorial. "What these women will need is long-term counseling, long-term care. [They are] heavily traumatized and [lost in] a world that's moving around them -- Bosnia-Herzegovina into Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina into the Council of Europe. What's for them out there as mothers of Srebrenica who suffered this terrible loss?" Klein said.

Klein said the political elites who benefited most from Bosnia's civil war have proved skillful at converting a war economy into one dominated by corruption and organized crime. And he said the internationally approved system of three presidents rotating according to ethnicity has so far translated into "no focus, no continuity, and no responsibility." "During the war, all three sides created purchasing logistics infrastructures to avoid sanctions. After the war, they converted those into mafia infrastructures. So our crime is not here at the base. Community crime, rape, murder, mayhem, [and] robbery is very low, [the] lowest in the whole region. Our crime is up here: national elites privatizing state enterprises, massive smuggling, illegal sale of weapons," Klein said.

Bosnia's two ministates, the Muslim-Croat federation and Republika Srpska, each has its own government and parliament. They are linked by joint federal institutions.

In October's general elections, nationalist parties strengthened their power. But both Klein and Ashdown say it was ineffective leadership, not hard-line nationalism, that led to the defeat of moderate candidates.

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