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Bosnia-Herzegovina: Ashdown Cites Progress, Appeals For Help On War Crimes

United Nations, 9 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The international community's high representative for Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, says there are signs that Bosnia-Herzegovina is moving from a period of what he called "lawless rule" to a society based on rule of law.

Ashdown told the UN Security Council today that Bosnians from all major ethnic groups have begun to cooperate on key issues. These include setting up a state-level tax administration, unifying control of the armed forces, and bringing together the divided city of Mostar.

"There are now the first signs that the Bosnian authorities are beginning to move beyond the old sterile confrontational politics of the immediate postconflict period and towards a more rational, more pragmatic politics focused on the bread and butter issues of everyday concern to their constituents and citizens," he said.

Ashdown credited Bosnian officials with moving to liberalize markets to create conditions for crucial foreign direct investment. He said they have also made progress on establishing an independent judiciary.

The high representative said he has found much less need to impose any coercive measures given to his office by the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended Bosnia's war.

The accords divided Bosnia into Muslim-Croat and Serb entities, which have mostly resisted building statewide institutions, prompting the high representative to impose laws and regulations.

But developments this year, Ashdown says, show the country is leaving what he called the "prison of Dayton."

"Dayton is being used not as in the past to block reform but to enable it. We have started to amend Dayton, within Dayton, by agreement between the peoples. In a real sense, the constitution of the country has now become the property of its people, not of the international community."

But the high representative also said new state-level institutions remain weak and criminal structures are still powerful.

Ashdown said indicted war criminals such as Radovan Karadzic must be brought to justice to help sustain the country's gains since the end of the war.

"Mr. Karadzic may not be able to block the process of reform any longer but he remains a baleful curse over the whole country and the sooner that is removed the better. We know that peace cannot be described as fully entrenched until the perpetrators of these unspeakable crimes are finally brought to justice.

Ashdown appealed for support from the international community to help fund and equip the new war crimes tribunal for Bosnia-Herzegovina, which must be in place by the end of this decade.

Germany's UN ambassador, Guenter Pleuger, affirmed his country's financial support for the creation of a special war crimes chamber in Bosnia. He said it is important for Bosnia's growth as a sovereign state to prosecute war criminals domestically: "Bosnia and Herzegovina should now be able, with international assistance, to bring war criminals to justice in national courts. Bosnia-Herzegovina's acceptance of this responsibility is an important indicator for its political will to gain ownership of its domestic matters."

The deputy U.S. ambassador to the UN, James Cunningham, singled out leaders of Bosnia's Serb entity for failing to enforce reforms and pursue war criminals.

He said the international community has upheld its obligations under the Dayton agreement. Leaders of Republika Srpska, he said, must do more for its impoverished people.

"Investors won't do business where the law is not upheld," he said, adding that Karadzic's "vast criminal support network continues to steal resources that local governments need to pay for pensions, health care, and education."

The Security Council in August passed a resolution calling for the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal to be phased out by 2010. All investigations, including indictments, are to be completed by the end of the year.