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Bosnia: High Commissioner Preparing To Leave Post

Prague, 14 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The International High Representative in Bosnia, Carlos Westendorp, is reaching the end of a two-year stint as the international community's top troubleshooter in Bosnia.

The lessons Westendorp has picked up in Bosnia since taking over from his predecessor, Carl Bildt, are likely to prove useful for members of the international community seeking to stabilize the situation in Kosovo. They include Bildt, who is now a UN envoy for Kosovo.

Westendorp told a Brussels press conference on Monday that Bosnia and the entire Balkans must be included in international efforts at resurrecting the region.

"Even if the Kosovo problem has detracted some attention from the international community, Bosnia is the key for the region, and together with Bosnia the neighbors are very important. A full democratization of the whole region -- a functioning economy, free market and respect for the existing borders; these are the three key issues for the whole region and I think this is what rightly the [international community's Balkan] stability pact is going to address."

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G-7) leading industrialized nations and Russia pledged at their summit in Cologne last month to take "vigorous measures" to support a stability pact to strengthen democracy and boost the economies of the Balkan states. Since then a total of 31 countries, including the Balkan states, and the member states of the EU have signed onto the Stability Pact.

In contrast to his predecessor, Westendorp has had greater powers to intervene in Bosnian affairs to speed up reforms. He expelled Serbian radical nationalist Vojislav Seselj from Bosnia. He also intervened in resolving the appearance of the Bosnian flag and coat of arms, and in the adoption of a single currency and common license plate for motor vehicles.

Last March, Westendorp fired the President of the Bosnian Serb entity, Nikola Poplasen. Poplasen is a member of Seselj's Radical Party who repeatedly designated hard-line candidates to the prime ministership of the Bosnian Serb entity who were unable to secure a parliamentary majority.

Westendorp says the future of Bosnia and the rest of the Balkans lies in European integration.

"I really believe that the future and the destiny of the southeastern European region is to join the European institutions.... Bosnia has to make an effort to join the Council of Europe and then to fulfill the obligations of the Stability Pact."

Westendorp, a former Spanish foreign minister, is leaving Sarajevo to be a deputy in the European parliament.

He is upbeat on the changes that occurred in Bosnia during his tenure as High Commissioner.

"The situation in Bosnia is encouraging. There is more reconciliation. People are traveling across the [inter-ethnic boundary line that separates the two Bosnian entities]. There is more freedom of movement. There are many issues which already are in place but there are many issues which [still] need to be accomplished as soon as possible in order to be able to integrate the country into a prosperous region."

Westendorp says he is leaving his post with mixed feelings. He notes that while many indicted war crimes suspects have been caught or surrendered and transferred to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the two most wanted suspects remain at large. They are former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and former Bosnian Serb military commander general Ratko Mladic.

"As far as war criminals are concerned, talking about numbers, the bottle is more than half full because more than half are already in The Hague. The problem is that the most relevant one, at least the two most relevant ones, are still at large and this of course is something I regret deeply. I thought this issue could be solved during my tenure. Unfortunately it hasn't been. So I hope my successor would be luckier. It is nothing that depends on the High Representative as you know. It depends on individual nations and individual forces of nations to do these actions."

Westendorp will be succeeded by the head of the EU's mission to Kosovo, Austrian ambassador Wolfgang Petritsch. Petritsch was a co-mediator with U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill at the Rambouillet and Paris talks on Kosovo in February and March.

Westendorp's principal deputy, U.S. diplomat Jacques Klein, is leaving the High Representative's office, but staying in Sarajevo to succeed Finnish diplomat Elisabeth Rehn as the UN Secretary General's special representative in Bosnia. The current U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, Ralph Johnson, will replace Klein as the principal deputy to the High Representative.

Many hurdles will face Petritsch and Johnson in their efforts to help transform Bosnia. As Westendorp mentioned, they include the capture of the remaining war criminals still on the loose. One of the biggest hurdles will be enabling the return of some 800,000 internally displaced Bosnians who are still unable to go back to their homes.