Washington, April 11 (RFE/RL) - U.S. officials say the fundraising conference for Bosnia that opens in Brussels Friday could be the glue that holds together the fragile peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Announcing details of the two-day event, U.S. State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said this week that a commitment by the international community to help rebuild war-torn Bosnia is, in his words "crucial to the success of the Dayton accords."
More than 50 countries are expected to send delegates, including some of the world's wealthiest nations.
Japan and Canada will be represented, as well as a contingent from member-states of the Organization of Islamic Conference, and all the European Union countries. Russia will be there too.
In a last minute decision Wednesday, Bosnian Serbs will be allowed to attend, along with Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and thus would be eligible to get a share of the donations.
Carl Bildt, High Representative of the European Union, who oversees civilian reconstruction in Bosnia, threatened to leave Bosnian Serbs out of the conference for failing to release Muslim war prisoners and hand over files on war crime suspects to the United Nations. They have now done so and are, as Bildt said, technically "in full compliance" with the Dayton Accords and were sent an invitation.
But in a show of defiance Wednesday, self-styled Bosnian Serb prime minister Rajko Kasagic said his group would boycott the conference unless they could be present as a separate delegation representing the Bosnian Serb "Republika Srpska."
Under the rules of the conference, if the Serbs are absent they risk losing a share of the reconstruction funds.
The goal of the Brussels conference, chaired jointly by the European Commission and the World Bank, is to raise 1,200 million dollars for housing construction, road and bridge-building and other projects planned this year in Bosnia.
U.S. officials say the reconstruction program is essential to implement political goals of reintegrating ethnic communities and preparing for national elections to be held in the fall.
The World Bank has estimated that over the next four years, more than 5,000 million dollars will be required to rebuild Bosnia and that this year alone the cost of civilian reconstruction will be 1,800 million dollars.
At a prior international fund-raising conference, in Brussels in December, participants pledged close to 600 million dollars for Bosnia and this week's event is to yield the balance.
Davies says the U.S. expects the conference to respond "in an effective, urgent manner to the enormous reconstruction challenges facing Bosnia."
The money raised in December was pledged but very little of it was disbursed, partly because of Bosnia's debt complications with the World Bank.
Bosnian Foreign Trade Minister Neven Tomic said recently that most of these problems were resolved when Bosnia last week rejoined the World Bank as a member. He said that clears the way for disbursement of aid pledges that he expects to begin next month.
The U.S. committed nearly 200 million dollars to the civilian reconstruction effort but could not release the funds until the U.S. Congress approved the measure which it did last week.
Davies says "the U.S. will make this full amount available in Brussels."
He says that in addition this year, the U.S. is contributing another 350 million dollars for peacekeeping operations, humanitarian aid, police training, demining projects and other civilian programs.
The U.S. hopes the Islamic countries will step in with generous contributions in Brussels to help fellow Muslims in Bosnia.
In an appeal for post-war aid, Bosnia invited the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to meet in Sarajevo this week before going to Brussels.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic told envoys from 16 Islamic countries that Bosnia needs their help and expects it to be "definitely one of the strongest factors in strengthening and building a stable peace in this part of the world."
OIC Secretary General Hamid Algabid said in response that Islamic countries would provide economic and military aid to Bosnia but gave no details.
Under the Dayton Accords, in addition to civilian reconstruction, Bosnian armed forces are to receive training and equipment sufficient to provide a military counterbalance to Bosnian Serb forces.
The program was set to begin in December with shipments of U.S. light arms but was delayed largely because of Bosnia's failure to comply with the Dayton Accords and get rid of foreign fighters, mostly Iranians.
Other countries also appeared reluctant to donate money for military equipment and training. A fund-raising conference for that purpose in Ankara a month ago yielded disappointing results.
But in any case, the U.S. has said it will not proceed with the military program until Bosnia removes all foreign fighters.
State Department spokesman Davies said recently that there has been some progress but "it hasn't gone down to zero where it needs to go." An estimated 150 Iranians are still believed to be in Bosnia.