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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ashdown Says Reforms Must Be Sped Up To Reach NATO, EU Goals

United Nations, 4 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The international community's high representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, says the country's rate of reform is too slow to reach key agreements with NATO and the European Union by this summer.

Ashdown told the UN Security Council today that the Bosnian leadership's aims to be ready in June to join NATO's Partnership for Peace plan and start negotiations on an EU stabilization agreement were too ambitious.

Ashdown cited impressive progress in the past year but said much work remains.

"The reform process does remain hamstrung in part by an overburdened agenda, sometimes by residual obstructionism or, at best, lethargy on the part of the entities and, let us recognize, from the dysfunctionalities of the Dayton structures," Ashdown said.

Ashdown expressed concern that nationalist parties will return to what he called "old practices of competitive victimization" in campaigning for municipal elections this year.

But he praised Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic for pressing a reform-oriented agenda. He cited progress on issues such as taxation, establishing state-level control over the armed forces, and reunifying the city of Mostar.

Terzic told the council his government was committed to the entire reform process, especially economic reforms, institution building, and establishing rule of law.

He said the country will be ready to join the partnership for peace program in time for NATO's June summit in Istanbul. Terzic said Bosnian officials aim to begin negotiations on an EU stabilization agreement this year and have the goal of EU membership by 2009.

Ashdown said Bosnia's economic conditions had surpassed security as his main concern.

"I do worry that if BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] -- a country where in the region of 50 percent of citizens live close to or below the official threshold of poverty -- if BiH continues in a parlous economic state or deteriorates further, then that could have implications for the social stability of the country," Ashdown said.

The high representative said he would focus on stimulating job growth by making conditions more conducive for foreign and domestic investment. Ashdown said another priority was resolving the country's internal debt -- including claims for war damages -- which total about 4 billion euros ($4.9 billion).

Ashdown earlier this month stepped up moves to end support for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic by freezing the bank accounts of 10 Bosnian Serbs accused of helping him. He said he would continue these efforts.

"I am determined to make life as difficult as possible for the indictees who are on the run and those who support them, including by tackling the networks that support these indictees and keep them from justice," Ashdown said.

"The reform process does remain hamstrung in part by an overburdened agenda, sometimes by residual obstructionism or, at best, lethargy on the part of the entities."
The U.S. deputy ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, said international pressure would continue for the handover of indicted war criminals to The Hague.

"Those who shelter indictees hold back all the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but mostly those in Republika Srpska, from achieving greater security and prosperity through integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. It is long past time to resolve this issue," Cunningham said.

Germany's UN ambassador Guenter Pleuger said that as European integration efforts accelerate, the leaders of Bosnia's Muslim, Serb and Croat communities must demonstrate their political will.

"There still seems to be considerable lack of identification of the main ethnic groups with the joint state Bosnia-Herzegovina. Time and again, we see political thinking as well as day-to-day decisions primarily based on ethnic categories," Pleuger said.

Security Council members also supported Ashdown's call to comply with the UN's decertification process for police. More than 150 police, who have not been qualified for service, have challenged the UN decertification process.