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UN: Bosnian Mission Seen As Symbol For Multiethnicity

For the past six months, Bosnia-Herzegovina's mission to the United Nations has been led by a Muslim and a Serb. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon says their differences reflect the fledgling state they represent, but that they believe they also serve as a potent symbol for ethnic cohabitation.

United Nations, 22 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Bosnia-Herzegovina's top two diplomats at its mission to the United Nations represent another key experiment in the country's move to statehood.

Ambassador Muhamed Sacirbey is Muslim. His deputy, Milos Prica is Serb. They are very aware of their ethnic constituencies in Bosnia but also know that their ability to work together makes a major statement for their fledgling state at its most important world forum -- the UN.

Prica was an advisor to the moderate prime minister of Bosnia's Serb entity, Milorad Dodik, when he was chosen to fill the number two post at the mission in March. As the first Serb at the mission, he saw his role, in part, as representing Bosnian Serb interests while at the same time seeking to strengthen the state as a whole.

The UN and NATO missions working in Bosnia say it has clearly progressed in the five years since the Dayton peace accords. The UN mission is trying to build a rule of law, by reforming the judiciary and police structures and combating corruption. There is also pressure for Bosnia's three main ethnic groups to combine their armed forces. But Prica says the internationally community must realize that reforms cannot be rushed.

"Reconciliation is a process which couldn't be so quick. You couldn't deal with the emotions, of course, and I think any step to be undertaken prematurely may jeopardize what we have done so far. "

Sacirbey says the co-existence of the two has not always been easy because of deep-rooted, differing positions about the partition of Bosnia. But he says they have established a working relationship based on goodwill and a desire for a strong Bosnian state.

"I think if there is one point that he [Prica] has accommodated my view on it is the view of a reintegrated Bosnia and a real commitment to the one country. And I'm very proud of the way that he shows that commitment without making distinctions in terms of ethnicity and different parts of Bosnia."

It also helps that both Sacirbey and Prica are at home on U.S. soil. The ambassador became a U.S. citizen in 1973 and received his education there. Prica was born in Chicago.

A recent review of the situation in Bosnia in the UN Security Council was positive, but there was concern by some council members about continued high levels of crime and corruption.

Both Sacirbey and Prica say the key catalyst for meaningful change in the country is engagement by the European Union toward eventual integration. That is a step, the ambassador says, that would create a strong climate for investment. Until that happens, he says, his country will be marginalized.

"Certainly, Bosnia doesn't look like Western Europe nor does it look like even some of the [EU] accession countries -- Hungary or Slovenia. Therefore, we don't have much capital and the world doesn't bring in much capital and I think that is the major, major focus."

The two diplomats are closely following developments in neighboring Yugoslavia, where presidential and parliamentary elections are planned for next month. The change in government in Croatia earlier this year played a major role in improving the situation in Bosnia. EU and U.S. leaders have repeatedly said a similar change is needed in Yugoslavia before Bosnia and the southern Balkans as a whole can shake off the effects of several wars in the 1990s.

Prica, too, says it is time for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to leave office.

"I think in Serbia as well as Montenegro, everybody is sick and tired of him and if there is not going to be a huge fraud, Milosevic is going to lose the elections."

Prica's colleague Sacirbey says that despite its recent history, Bosnia has traditionally had an ethnically integrated population. Its division now, he says, is artificial and is not likely to be supported by its people. As for the Bosnian UN mission, its integration is now evident in a very public way.