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Balkan donors meet, eyeing quick-start aid

BRUSSELS, Mar 29, 2000 -- (Reuters) International donors began meeting on Wednesday to pledge aid to the Balkans on condition countries in the region work to overcome their ethnic tensions.

The Regional Funding Conference organized by the World Bank and European Commission is the first since the Stability Pact for southeast Europe was set up after NATO's campaign to evict Serb forces from Kosovo last year and comes five year's after the end of Bosnia-Herzegovina's civil war.

Opening the two-day meeting, European foreign affairs commissioner Chris Patten repeated the West's message that Serbia - while included in the Pact - will not benefit from substantial aid while President Slobodan Milosevic is in power.

"While Milosevic is still in power the serious money stays in the vault," Patten said, describing the Serb leader as "a brooding presence, locking Yugoslavia into a bleak winter".

Montenegro's leader Milo Djukanovic said on Tuesday he believed Milosevic was sowing the seeds of a new conflict in the Yugoslav province, which is more pro-Western than Belgrade.

Patten promised Montenegro and Serbia's opposition movement, which was invited to the conference along with representatives of Stability Pact members Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Romania, the West's full support.

"Montenegro has taken a different path to Serbia. We are determined to give the Montenegrin people our support," he said.

PLEDGES TO TOTAL 1.8 BLN EUROS

Donors are expected to pledge at the meeting to support a "quick start" program of infrastructure and know-how projects to start by next March.

"We are looking to put together this quick start program, a total of 1.8 billion euros ($1.72 billion)," World Bank President James Wolfensohn told delegates.

Many projects aim to improve cross-border infrastructure, such as rail and road transport and electricity networks and effectively force the countries to work together.

The program consists of 1.1 billion euros of infrastructure projects drawn up by the European Investment Bank and a 290 million euro scheme to help the private sector prepared by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The balance is made up of support for Stability Pact initiatives in areas like education, media, human rights, justice and home affairs.

Officials said, however, the conference was being asked to find only a fraction of the total, which includes money pledged at a separate donors conference on Kosovo held last year.

The quick start program is also only part of a much bigger plan to support the region over many years.

Patten said on Wednesday that the European Union's contribution alone, including six billion euros already earmarked for EU candidates Bulgaria and Romania, would be 12 billion euros over six years. EU support for the quick start program would be 530 million euros, he said.

Wolfensohn said, however, any amount of aid would not help if the countries themselves did not carry out necessary reforms to legal, financial and governance structures.



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