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Yugoslavia: World Bank To Keep Focus On East Europe Despite Balkans

A senior World Bank official says the transition countries of Central and East Europe do not have to fear they will suffer neglect because of the new international emphasis on reconstruction in the Balkans. On the contrary, the World Bank says the attention being paid to rebuilding the wartorn nations will likely benefit neighboring regions as well. Our correspondent reports from Sarajevo.

Sarajevo, 29 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Rory O'Sullivan is the World Bank's special representative to South East Europe. He told RFE/RL that the World Bank works on the basis of a country-by-country focus and has no intention of being distracted by the big international effort now getting underway to assist development in the Balkan region.

O'Sullivan was speaking in Brussels prior to flying to Sarajevo to attend the Balkans Reconstruction Summit that begins tomorrow. He said:

"I don't think there is a chance we would put less into this or that country because we are putting more into the Balkans. On the other hand, there is a major trade potential [that is] going to develop for the other countries of Central and East Europe as a result of the increased activity south of them."

At the same time, O'Sullivan said the World Bank is fully committed to supporting the effort to rebuild the devastation in Kosovo:

"We are conducting a damage assessment in Kosovo and its surrounding areas, and in October we hope to be able to put on the table an integrated construction plan for Kosovo."

He said that "clearly" the World Bank is providing and will continue to provide very strong support to countries of the Southeast European region. He noted that the bank provides in a normal year for that region alone sums of between $5 billion and $7 billion, not including the funds it will soon make available to Kosovo.

O'Sullivan was asked about the growing economic and social dilemma of Serbia, which is excluded from receiving international aid. He said:

"This is really very disturbing, and we are very concerned about that, not only from a humanitarian point of view but also from an economic standpoint, when you think that we have 500,000 Serbian refugees left over from previous wars and incidents, and now already 120,000 Serbs have left the Kosovo part of Serbia, this is really of concern. And on top of that, we have the economy at a standstill."

He said the World Bank looks forward to supporting Yugoslavia as soon as all of the circumstances permit.

Commenting on remarks by various officials and analysts that the Kosovo assistance effort could be subject to confusion because of the large number of agencies participating, O'Sullivan said that this, indeed, could be so:

"I think there is a danger in the sense that Kosovo is very small. It is one-third the size of Bosnia and with half the number of people -- but there are 125 non-government organizations there and a large number of bilateral agencies, as well as international agencies. I think the donors are aware of this [danger]."

He said the need for better coordination had already been discussed and that he expects the U.N. Mission (UNMIK) to act to improve the situation.

He also said the bank and donors are generally "well-satisfied" with what has happened in the Bosnia rebuilding effort in purely economic terms, although he acknowledged there is a long way still to go in terms of some political aspects.