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Bosnia: Official Optimistic About Progress This Year

By Amir Zukic and Alexandra Poolos

Bosnian peace accords negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, took effect more than four years ago, but Bosnia still struggles to recover from the effects of the 4 1/2-year war that preceded the peace. International High Representative for Bosnia Wolfgang Petritsch says there will be more progress in Bosnia this year than in all the past four years. RFE/RL Sarajevo correspondent Amir Zukic and correspondent Alexandra Poolos, in Prague, collaborated on this report:

Sarajevo, 7 January 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The international community's top official in Bosnia says he is optimistic about the country as it enters the new millennium.

Wolfgang Petritsch, the international high representative for Bosnia, says he maintains his good feeling despite widespread corruption, continued ethnic tensions, and seemingly endless reconstruction.

In an interview in Sarajevo with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Petritsch said he expects greater stabilization in the year ahead. He says that as much as 90 percent of the country's infrastructure has been repaired. Now, he says, local and international administrators must concentrate on building a viable economy:

"Now it's the time to give the economy that produces jobs a serious chance. Infrastructure projects have been totally financed by international donors. Infrastructure projects do not produce so many jobs, because once the bridge is constructed you do not have jobs left any longer. So therefore, now we have to concentrate on the issue of creating jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs -- this is the order of the day."

Petritsch says he plans now to focus on developing a better banking system and improving conditions for private foreign investment. He says he plans to seek changes in what he calls the inconsistent legal framework in Bosnia. He says he wants legislation to provide a measure of "safety and predictability" for investors.

Increasing foreign investor confidence may not be easy after an American-led anti-fraud investigating unit last summer reported that millions of dollars of aid money had "disappeared" from public funds. The investigators said politicians from all three ethnic groups in Bosnia had siphoned off the money, which according to some reports amounted to nearly one-tenth of the foreign aid given to the country.

Petritsch says that he recently established an anti-corruption office in Bosnia to oversee local officials' use of funds. He says he intends to take a firmer hand with politicians and hold them to their promises.

"Well they maybe will forget. I will not forget."

"Because this is the venue towards democracy -- the accountability, the responsibility, to take ownership of this country, to be responsible for your country, to tackle the problems, and to resolve problems for the people that you are representing."

The diplomat says that underneath the fractured politics of Bosnia, lies a society still divided along ethnic lines. Petritsch says that progress in Bosnia will depend upon the development of common institutions.

"We are still looking at quite a divided society. The three ethnic communities have still not decided particularly when it comes to the top politicians to cooperate, to work together and to find compromises to the benefit of the whole population in this country. But, as I say, there is progress, but not enough. So there, in the year 2000, we will have to speed up the process of institution building."

The failure of refugees from the war to return to Bosnia has, Petritsch says, been an obstacle to integrating the society.

"I have issued several laws and regulations only a couple of weeks ago which now makes it easier for the returnees. So I do hope, and I am quite confident that the year 2000 will also bring an even greater number of returnees back to their homes. Because I can tell you one thing, it is simply not acceptable that four years after the end of the war some people have been away from their homes and did not get a chance to return. This has to change and I will see to it in the year 2000 that everybody who wants to return to his or her home will get a chance."

Bosnia is scheduled to hold municipal and general elections this year. Petritsch recently published a New Year's letter to the people of Bosnia. He said the country no longer can afford, in his words, to "muddle along as it has so far." He called on Bosnian politicians and citizens to change course in favor of what called "radical change." The year 2000, he said, will be crucial.