Council of Europe sees Bosnia ready to join soon

SARAJEVO, Jan 19, 2000 -- (Reuters) Council of Europe leaders told Bosnia on Tuesday that it should soon be able to meet the conditions for joining the 41-nation organization promoting human rights and democracy.

But they also made clear the country's political leaders - still divided along largely ethnic lines - must show they can work together in state institutions to qualify for membership.

"...Bosnia and Herzegovina should in the near future be able to take its rightful place as a full member of the Council of Europe," said Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews, who chairs the Council's Committee of Ministers.

Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer indicated that Bosnia may join later this year. "I hope that year 2000 will be of special significance for your country and for the Council of Europe," he told a special session of the state parliament.

Andrews said several steps still needed to be taken, notably "...the establishment of fully functioning common institutions, the most significant of which is this parliament," he said.

He urged the assembly to increase funding for human rights institutions such as the Human Rights Chamber and to take action to boost refugee returns.

Andrews and Schwimmer were on a two-day visit to discuss the membership bid with Bosnian leaders and with Western envoys overseeing the peace process.

Schwimmer stressed the need for parliament to adopt a draft law on how to run its elections. Local elections are due in April and general elections in October.

The draft law, worked out by international and Bosnian experts, is designed to promote more moderate politics as well as reconciliation following the 1992-1995 conflict.

Federation Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic, who also heads Bosnia's parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe, said the country was ready to implement all membership requirements.

Post-war Bosnia is made up of two highly autonomous entities - the Moslem-Croat federation and the Serb republic. State institutions remain weak, reflecting the ethnic divisions.

Bosnia applied for Council of Europe membership in April 1995, seeing this as a crucial step in its integration with the rest of Europe, and hopes to be admitted as early as April.

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