Balkans urged to be patient as donors collect aid

SKOPJE, Feb 12, 2000 -- (Reuters) The head of an EU-backed development fund urged Balkan states on Friday to be patient as wealthy countries prepared for a donor conference.

Bodo Hombach, the coordinator of the Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said banks and governments were already pledging support, but that states seeking aid needed to prepare by reforming their economies and securing political stability.

"It is wrong to have exaggerated expectations, but I urge all those who are not taking the pact seriously to be patient because the Stability Pact has no alternative," Hombach told reporters in Skopje.

The pact was set up last summer to help develop and integrate the countries of south eastern Europe following the end of the Kosovo conflict, which caused immense damage to a number of their economies. It covers Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Macedonia and Romania.

Hombach was attending the final two-day preparatory meeting ahead of a donors' conference scheduled for Brussels.

"We have very good news from banks and governments. Japan wants to organize a financial conference. Even Switzerland, which is not a member of the European Union, wants to help the pact. Assistance is being offered by Norway and the Netherlands," he said, speaking through an interpreter.

Fabrizio Saccomanni, co-chairman of the Skopje conference, told reporters 400 projects had been discussed, of which 45 were for rapid implementation and 80 were longer-term. The pact has already given an immediate go-ahead to a reconstruction project for Blace border crossing between Macedonia and Kosovo.

Yugoslavia has been excluded from the pact until the government implements political reforms, although the West is keen to try to provide support for democratic opposition groups.

"The Stability Pact can be successful without Yugoslavia, but not permanently," Hombach said.

"We are impatiently awaiting change in Serbia and are in contact with the Serbian opposition on how to launch concrete projects, particularly in towns where the opposition is in power."

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