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UN: Petritsch Says Bosnian Progress 'Frustratingly' Slow

Bosnia's top international official, Wolfgang Petritsch, says nationalist interests continue to obstruct political and economic reforms that should spur the country's development. But he says the high rate of minority returns and other steps indicate that progress is being made.

United Nations, 27 October 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The international community's high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Wolfgang Petritsch, today urged the UN Security Council to remain vigilant on reform efforts in the country.

Petritsch said recent changes of leadership in Croatia and Yugoslavia would positively influence events in Bosnia. But he said change in Bosnia has been "frustratingly slow." He said the Bosnian leadership was still dominated by ethnic interests rather than support of a unified state.

"We should not drop our guard. The destructive nationalisms that pulled the region apart have not fallen with Slobodan Milosevic. The political changes in Belgrade are watched more with apprehension than with relief in Kosovo, and Montenegro as well as Bosnia."

The high representative stressed the importance of recent visits to Sarajevo by the Croatian foreign minister and new Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. He said he urged Kostunica, during a meeting in Belgrade, to seek full membership in the United Nations and to end Yugoslavia's patronage of Bosnian Serbs.

Economic reform, Petritsch told the council, is the engine of change in Bosnia. But he said the sluggish privatization process has not attracted significant foreign investment and if external aid slows down, the Bosnian economy will be at risk. Petritsch also criticized the collective Bosnian leadership for failing to take meaningful steps to fight corruption.

"The country is a decade behind the rest of Central Europe in pushing through market economic reforms and we want to move on from the economics of the state plan."

Petritsch said he has used his authority as high representative to dismiss 24 public officials for obstruction of the Dayton peace agreement. He has also taken steps such as imposing a single national passport, he said, because of the refusal of Bosnian leaders to act. Another recent step was the introduction of a new telephone numbering plan for the country.

Those trying to reach the Serb entity in Bosnia are no longer required to dial through Belgrade now.

The Bosnian ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Sacirbey, said he agreed with some of the criticisms of the high representative. But he also said Bosnians need to be given more credit for some of the progress that has taken place.

"From Ambassador Petritsch's comments, one may be left with the damagingly false impression that all that goes wrong in Bosnia is due to the Bosnians and all that happens right is due to the representatives of the international community."

Sacirbey said the several elections held in Bosnia under the guidance of the international community were largely free and fair. And he said the high rate of minority returns -- about 30,000 so far this year -- could be attributed in part to cooperation among Bosnians.

Security Council members were overwhelmingly supportive of the international representative's efforts in Bosnia. Many said they hoped for gains of pro-democratic forces in Bosnia's general elections next month.