Economic progress key to refugee return in Bosnia - Ogata

SARAJEVO, Mar 21, 2000 -- (Reuters) Economic progress is crucial for the return of refugees to Bosnia, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata said here Tuesday, five years after the end of Bosnia's 1992-95 war.

It is important that the returnees "not only come back but have something to do as well," Ogata told a press conference, noting that donors' attention had shifted away from Bosnia.

"We have to come up with a good project and to persuade donors that this is a time to promote the return that we have all talked about and hoped for," Ogata said.

Five years after the end of the war, there are still 1.2 million refugees in Bosnia compared to 1.8 million when the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1995, according to UNHCR figures.

Two-thirds are displaced within the country, according to the same figures.

"We consider that the return issue is the central issue for stability in Bosnia and also for the reconstruction of Bosnia," Ogata said.

She also expressed hopes that the the return process in the region would be facilitated by the change of power in Croatia, where pro-European President Stipe Mesic recently replaced the nationalist leadership.

Ogata, on a 13-day tour to the Balkans that has already taken her to Croatia, arrived in Bosnia Saturday, spending the first two days in the Bosnian Serb entity.

She was to leave Sarajevo Tuesday afternoon for Belgrade, and visit Podgorica, Pristina, Skopje and Tirana as well.

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