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Bosnia: New Prime Minister says U.S. Help Essential for Reform

By Gabriela Pecic

Washington, 13 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Bosnia's new prime minister, Zlatko Lagumdzija, said today in Washington that his country's reform program cannot reach its full potential without financial aid from the U.S.

Lagumdzija said today in Washington that his country's previous leaders -- whom he did not name -- had stolen Western aid. But now, he said, Bosnia has a responsible leadership, but it still needs the money to institute the necessary political and economic reforms.

The prime minister -- who was appointed during his visit to Washington this week -- told a news conference that if the U.S. does not take the lead in giving this assistance to Bosnia, other Western nations also may not give.

"American leadership is necessary for Bosnia to become a more European country."

Lagumdzija said establishing the rule of law in Bosnia is very important to his government. A leading priority, he said, will be to eliminate corrupt politicians and war criminals.

The prime minister likened the old Yugoslavia to a large swimming pool with 22 million bathers. For the most part, he said, everyone was swimming happily with only a little trouble "under the water," as he put it. But then a shark invaded -- meaning former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic -- causing panic in the pool. Now, he said, the shark has been thrown out, but trouble remains.

"But some piranhas are still left in -- some other small fishes that are not so dangerous as a bigger shark are still there. And we have to clean that pool from those little, unpleasant fishes."

Lagumdzija said he is confident that Bosnia is capable of ridding itself of these "piranhas." He noted that his ruling party, the Social Democrats, and his cabinet are made up of members of all three of the nation's ethnic groups, Croats, Muslims, and Serbs. In fact, the prime minister said, Bosnians are becoming more accustomed than their neighbors to dealing with -- and sometimes solving -- interethnic problems.

"There's one school of thought in the Balkans that every problem in the region starts in Bosnia. I happen to belong to a group of people who think completely differently: That every problem that happens in the region sooner or later ends in Bosnia. Bosnia itself is not a place where problems get generated. Bosnia-Herzegovina itself is the place where the problems of the region meet."

Lagumdzija -- who was foreign minister when he arrived in Washington earlier this week -- also spoke of international policy. Essentially, he said Bosnia's policy can be divided into four equal spheres of attention: the U.S., its neighbors in Southeastern Europe, the European Union, and the rest of the world.

He said he considers the U.S. a neighbor -- at least a "virtual neighbor" -- because Bosnia's Constitution was written in America when the Dayton Peace Accords were being drawn up. In fact, Lagumdzija said, the first draft of his nation's constitution was written in English.