Accessibility links

Breaking News

Bosnia: Preparing For Life After Bildt

Prague, 28 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Carl Bildt, top international mediator for Bosnia-Herzegovina for the last two years, is leaving his post critical of European countries for their inability to respond effectively to the crisis there.

In a speech yesterday at The Hague to the Netherlands Association for International Affairs, the former Swedish Prime Minister said that both past fighting and the current lack of progress in Bosnian peace efforts had revealed an inability of European countries to "act according to any policy." He said that the United States, by comparison, had demonstrated a "superior ability to orchestrate action."

Bildt urged European Union (EU) leaders to adopt reforms allowing for more effective foreign policy initiatives. Otherwise, he warned, the EU will not be able to respond to future crises in what he called a "belt of poverty and despair across the Balkan peninsula." Bildt said the area includes the former Yugoslav republics of Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia as well as Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania.

As Bildt departs, he can take some solace from the fact that the situation in Bosnia is far better that when he arrived. Then, fighting still raged and some of the worst atrocities of the war were just ahead. As he leaves, guns in Bosnia have largely been silent for some 18 months. However, few observers are confident that a peace can survive the withdrawal of a NATO-led international force from Bosnia. Its current mandate expires in one year.

Robert Gelbard, the top U.S. envoy for the former Yugoslavia, was in Sarajevo yesterday where he said there is "enormous frustration" in Washington over slow implementation of the Dayton peace accord, which ended 43 months of fighting in late 1995. Gelbard expressed particular concern over a failure to permit a return of refugees and to protect freedom of movement in Bosnia. Both have been slowed by local authorities and by continued enmity among Bosnia's Muslims, Croats, and Serbs.

The task of working on these and other obstacles will be the job of the next international mediator, due to be selected by foreign ministers from the so-called "contact group" of nations at a meeting in Portugal on Friday. The top candidate is believed to be Spain's ambassador to the United Nations, Carlos Westendorp. The contact group includes Russia, the United States, France, Britain, and Germany.

During meetings in Sintra, outside Lisbon, diplomats are also due to review implementation of the Dayton accord. Leading officials from Bosnia, including the three members of its collective presidency, are expected to participate.

The Sintra meetings will likely see efforts by the United States to rally support for its new initiative aimed at reinvigorating the peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said last week that the effort includes renewed pressure on leaders in Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia to hand over suspected war criminals to the UN tribunal in The Hague. She also said a new push will be made to speed up the return of refugees. Albright warned that failure to cooperate will endanger aid deliveries. She said the NATO-led force in Bosnia should take on new civilian tasks, including the return of refugees and restoration of telecommunication links.

Albright is to visit Bosnia this weekend. Stops are planned in Sarajevo, in Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska, and in the disputed town of Brcko.