A UN peacekeeping official says there are fresh signs that rule of law is taking hold in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But concern also remains over corruption, crime and ethnic tensions in the country. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.
United Nations, 16 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Nearly five years of peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina have allowed the international community to focus its latest efforts on setting up a rule of law in the country.
The latest UN estimates on the number of Bosnians returning this year indicate that those efforts are making some progress.
The UN's undersecretary-general for peacekeeping, Bernard Miyet told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that 19,500 refugees and internally displaced people have returned to areas of Bosnia-Herzegovina where they are minorities so far this year. By comparison, he said, just 2,000 people returned during the same period last year.
It is a clear sign, Miyet says, that confidence is growing among Bosnia's large displaced population.
"It can be noted that UNMIBH -- the UN Mission in Bosnia -- continues to move ahead in the implementation of its mandate in a positive fashion. There has been progress in all areas such as inter-entity law enforcement arrangements and growing day-to-day cooperation between the interior ministries of the Bosnian Federation and of the Republic of Srpska."
Miyet says there have been recent cases of cooperation involving Muslim, Serb and Croat police units in combating two of Bosnia's biggest problems -- illegal immigration and organized crime. He said inter-ethnic police task forces have joined to break up a smuggling and counterfeit money operation in Doboj as well as investigate a group producing false passports in Mostar.
The UN Mission in Bosnia is also trying to ensure that minority candidates are allowed in greater numbers into police academies in Bosnia's two entities. Miyet says more than 450 minority officers are attending or have now graduated from such academies. In an important symbolic gesture last week, a Muslim officer was assigned to work in Serb-controlled Srebrenica, site of a massacre of Bosnian Muslims five years ago.
The mission has also instituted a stricter policy against local police illegally occupying residential premises. They now face a loss of their police powers if they do not vacate those premises after a court decision is taken.
Miyet says such developments may help explain why nearly 300 Bosnian Muslim families this year have returned to communities in Republika Srpska that were seen as hardline, including Prijedor, Doboj and Foca.
Security Council members on Tuesday said they are encouraged by the high rate of returning minorities. But many of them said it is important for the UN mission to maintain pressure on Bosnia's collective leadership to tackle perennial problems such as smuggling, organized crime and ethnic tensions.
The Netherlands' ambassador to the United Nations, Arnold Van Walsum, noted with concern shortfalls in Bosnia's budget. He said part of the deficit could be attributable to the hundreds of millions of dollars lost to smuggling. He said that smuggling is on such a large scale that it likely involves high-level officials.
"It has been pointed out that the country is going through many simultaneous transitions. We grant this, but the conclusion can only be that the Bosnian authorities must redouble their efforts to stamp out crime and corruption. They must be aware that foreign aid is not an infinite commodity."
Bosnian officials acknowledge the slow pace of progress on areas such as crime and corruption. But they say greater attention by the international community to economic progress in Bosnia could help strengthen the rule of law there. In particular, Bosnian officials say, they would like a stronger commitment from European bodies -- particularly the European Union -- that they can be engaged as potential members.
Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations, Muhamed Sacirbey, told RFE/RL in an interview that he would like to see Bosnia move from being what he calls a protectorate to a partner with its European neighbors.
"We've heard all the stories of corruption, we've heard all the stories of things not going the right way in Bosnia, which obviously some of that is deserved and some of it is not. But the real question is who is going to make investments in Bosnia if it is somehow set out as this no-man's land in a new Europe?"
Meanwhile, UN officials say, Bosnia needs money to help sustain its reforms. For example, an estimated $40 million is needed by the UN mission in Bosnia to support the State Border Service and carry out police restructuring and training. There is deep concern that donor fatigue will hurt Bosnia before it is stable enough to follow through on reforms.