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Bosnia: Extremists Seen As Impeding Progress

Success at the United Nations does not usually draw much attention. Against the backdrop of continuing troubles in Sierra Leone, Congo, and in Kosovo, the UN operation in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina has quietly made some progress recently toward building a functioning multiethnic society. RFE/RL correspondent Joe Lauria assesses the latest status report by the UN mission in Bosnia.

United Nations, 23 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The guns have been silent in Bosnia for almost five years and the UN has been busy picking up the pieces. But as the UN Security Council heard yesterday, it has not been easy.

The council considered a report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which said a multiethnic police force had successfully been created in Brcko but resisted in other parts of the country, such as central Bosnia. Annan said that in Mostar, the Croats had refused to allow Bosnian Muslim police to work from the same building.

Last week, the Muslim police were finally allowed into the police headquarters to inspect office space. But as noted by the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Hedi Annabi, even this minimal progress required considerable pressure from UN authorities.

Annabi said that efforts to create an integrated state border service had progressed recently when the country's joint presidency, representing the three ethnic groups, had approved an organizational structure.

The UN Secretary-General's report also cited progress on judicial reform, including adoption in Sarajevo courts of reforms in arrest warrants, amnesty and trials in absentia. In Sarajevo, the ministry of justice has also separated its budget from that of the courts, after a UN recommendation. But there has been little progress in creating clear regulations on delays between detention and trial.

The secretary-general says progress on returning refugees to the country has been slowed through a lack of funding for UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) projects.

Annabi summarized the past three months by saying that, while progress has been achieved, it has most often been based on efforts by the UN mission and not local authorities.

"In fact, significant resistance by entrenched radical nationalists and backward-looking elements continues to be encountered at every stage."

Annabi added that the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement -- which ended the war in 1995 -- still remains a challenge and requires the continued commitment and engagement from the international community.

Russia's UN ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, often the UN's harshest critic on the Balkans, said the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina doesn't give grounds for too much optimism. But he said the situation "shouldn't induce a pessimistic mood either."

Lavrov warned against the re-emergence of Muslim political extremism and condemned Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim president, for referring to Serbs and Croats as "enemies."

Bosnia's UN representative, Muhammad Sacirbey, rejected Lavrov's criticism, saying that Bosnian Muslims and all ethnic parties supported the UN and were willing to cooperate with each other.

And Sacirbey said the international community may be underestimating the willingness of ordinary Bosnians to work together.

"There are also many, maybe even a majority, from all ethnic backgrounds who are supportive of UNMIBH's efforts and who are the backbone of the growing success of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Britain's UN ambassador, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, said that "the advances made in supporting a free and fair society in Bosnia is important to establishing stability in the Balkans as a whole." But Greenstock said that what was lacking in the UN's assessment of the Bosnian situation was an exit strategy.

The UN has been paying for decades for peacekeeping missions in Cyprus and southern Lebanon and many diplomats feared from the start of UNMIBH's mission that there would be a similarly lengthy mission.

Sacirbey it would be "wise" to evaluate a time frame for the completion of the UN's task.

Jim Cunningham, the U.S. deputy representative to the UN, also noted the progress has been made but said there has been powerful resistance to reforms. He cited as an example the delay in creating a single passport for Bosnians.

Cunningham also pointed out that the joint border patrol was only established after pressure was brought to bear on the parties by Jacques Klein, the UN's high representative in the country.

"Progress can't disguise that there are many in Bosnia and elsewhere in the region who do not support a unified multi-ethnic Bosnia. There are extreme nationalists who have not given up their efforts to undermine Dayton and what it stands for. There are criminals who seek to preserve and protect illicit profits."

Following the meeting, the council issued a statement, calling for the integration of the ministry of interior as well as the chain of command of the police throughout the Federation, particularly in Mostar. The council also call on the parties to increase the number of minority police officers serving in local police forces.