Serb Flight From Bosnia, Fading Interest by Media
Point to Problems Facing A Lasting Peace
LONDONFEBRUARY 28Reuters) The Bosnian peace deal and NATO muscle may have ended the fighting but there is growing concern that international attempts to build real stability through a multi-ethnic, democratic state are crumbling.
The Serb exodus from Sarajevo and trouble between Muslims and Croats in the divided city of Mostar have shown that the fear and hatred left by Europe's worst conflict since 1945 will remain long after NATO troops pull out at the end of the year.
The Dayton peace accord, signed more than two months ago in Paris, allowed the 60,000-strong multinational force to move in and remove the immediate threat of renewed fighting. But the agreement also tried to restore something of the multicultural and tolerant pre-war Bosnia, with a central government involving Serbs, Croats and Muslims, provisions for refugees to return to their homes and freedom of movement. Diplomats and analysts say achieving those goals is vital, since they provide the only real long-term guarantee of peace.
But, despite renewed pledges of commitment from Balkan leaders at a Rome summit earlier this month, there are increasing doubts about whether those aims can be achieved.
``What we seem to have on the ground is a growing tendency for each ethnic group to withdraw into its own space, that is what we are seeing in Sarajevo and Mostar at the moment,'' said one European diplomat, who asked not to be identified. ``It is our biggest worry -- that we could be storing up trouble for the future even if we have stopped the fighting.''
Michael Williams, an expert on former Yugoslavia with the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), said that political, social and economic reconstruction in Bosnia had lagged badly. ``The military aspect has gone better than anyone dared hope. But the other developments in the last few days bode ill for the future. They are deeply troubling,'' Williams told Reuterss.
Former Swedish premier Carl Bildt, who is leading the international community's civilian efforts in rebuilding Bosnia, said last week that the current exodus of Serbs leaving Sarajevo could have major implications for the rest of the country.
In Mostar, the Croats have resisted European Union efforts to unite the city they share with the Muslims. The EU administrator, Hans Koschnick, said this week he wanted to step down and diplomats say the 15-nation bloc is highly unlikely to extend its administration of the city when its two-year mandate expires in July.Koschnick was the target of riots in February (photo, above) when he unveiled his plan to divide Mostar between Muslim and Croat residents.
Blame has been apportioned to the political leadership on all sides for failing to convince people that they should build a new society rather than withdraw into ethnic ghettos.
Bildt criticised the Muslim-led government for failing to do more in reassuring the Serbs in Sarajevo, while NATO officials have accused the Bosnian Serb leadership of manipulating and scaring its own people for political ends.
A multi-billion dollar effort to rebuild Bosnia is promised but little of the cash has materialised so far and a formal pledging conference in Brussels is not due until mid-April. ``People do not see the direct benefits of peace at the moment and that is a problem,'' said another European diplomat.
The effort to organize elections by September, as provided for in the Dayton agreement, is proving to be a monumentally difficult task. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have not returned to their pre-war homes and many are reluctant to do so.
Moreover, international interest in Bosnia is fading fast. Without the horrors of war, there are fewer television reports, less coverageand governments are no longer obliged to pay as much attention to the problem.
The energetic, bullish and media-savvy U.S. negotiator who brokered the peace deal, Richard Holbrooke, left government service last week for more lucrative work on Wall Street.
Privately, diplomats acknowledge that the Dayton peace agreement was hastily put together and over-ambitious in setting so many goals to be achieved within one year. Some say that, in any case, the deal effectively sanctioned ethnic divisions within Bosnia by allowing two separate entities the Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat federation.
``Our main concern at the time was to end the fighting, end this war that was poisoning relations between us all,'' said another diplomat. ``We have to try and make it work, not just in the short-term, but it is obviously not going to be easy.''
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