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Balkan Report: November 5, 1997

5 November 1997, Volume 1, Number 15

Westendorp Gives Bosnian Government Two Weeks to Clean Up Corruption. Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on October 31 that there is massive and systematic corruption in the predominantly Croat and Muslim federation. He added that it totals about $30 million so far this year. Westendorp charged that government departments regularly siphon off money to fund agencies that should have been dissolved under the Dayton agreements. He warned that he will publish his findings in two weeks unless the authorities put a stop to the abuse.

Mirsad Kurtovic, the head of the government's main supply office, denied the charges. He told RFE/RL on November 1 that his organization deals only with perfectly legal departments that are included in the state budget. Kurtovic cited the army, the state-run mines, and the Health Ministry as examples of his partners.

Some Muslims and Croats nonetheless cautioned that such defensive explanations may not convince foreign aid donors. Bosnian officials from joint presidency member Alija Izetbegovic on down have, in any event, been denying charges of corruption ever since British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook first raised them publicly in July. RFE/RL suggested that the problem of corruption does not lie with Western assistance, which is generally closely monitored, but rather with aid from the Muslim world, which is less stringently controlled.

Banja Luka TV Beamed Across Bosnian Serb Territory. Meanwhile in the Republika Srpska, President Biljana Plavsic's television broadcasts reached all Bosnian Serb territory on October 31, following SFOR's repair of a transmitter in eastern Bosnia. The work cost $500,000. Pale hard-liners had deliberately damaged the facility earlier that month to prevent peacekeepers from using it to broadcast Plavsic's programs (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," 22 October 1997).

RFE/RL Surveys a Confused Media Landscape. The fight over the transmitters comes in the runup to the November 23 Bosnian Serb parliamentary elections. Spokesmen for the international community told RFE/RL on November 3 that Banja Luka TV has agreed to a fair distribution of air time among the political parties and independent candidates and to follow internationally accepted journalistic norms in its election coverage.

But a spokesman for one of the non-nationalist parties questioned whether it is possible for Banja Luka TV's journalists to quickly attain such professional standards after years of producing nationalistic propaganda as part of hard-line Pale TV's network.

One of Pale's top spokesmen, Aleksa Buha, for his part charged that Banja Luka is now broadcasting its own propaganda that portrays the Pale leadership as "thieves and murderers."