Envoy maps out Bosnia reforms, needs troops to stay

BRUSSELS, May 5, 2000 -- (Reuters) The West's top peace envoy to Bosnia mapped out his key reform targets on Thursday, saying the country had crossed a watershed in the Dayton peace process.

But he warned that the international community should not be tempted into cutting the number of peacekeeping troops there as their job could yet become more difficult.

In his latest assessment of efforts to bring long-term stability to Bosnia, Austrian diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch told NATO ambassadors in Brussels the continued presence of NATO-led (SFOR) peacekeepers was essential.

"If we are to have any hope of success...we must have a stable security environment," he said in an address, a copy of which was released to the media.

He said the alliance should not cut troop numbers below the current 20,000, just one third of the initial strength.

"In my opinion we should play safe and be very circumspect about discussing any further reduction of troop levels for the time being."

Petritsch said SFOR's active engagement would become more important as there could be serious resistance to economic and political reforms he is trying to push through, including a clampdown on corruption, the cash cow for Bosnia's three nationalist parties.

"I believe we have crossed a watershed in the Dayton process," he said. "After 1995, the priority was reconstruction. Now...the focus has switched to reform and self-sustainability."

He said his three main challenges were economic reform, accelerating the return of refugees and consolidating institutions in a country ravaged by war in 1992-95.


He said the West was trying to deconstruct the old political-economic structure that resulted from centuries of authoritarian rule, but acknowledged that this carried a risk of violent resistance.

Petritsch welcomed the recent rise in numbers of refugees returning home, but again warned that this could lead to tensions and spark violence by hardline nationalists.

NATO reckons some 80,000 Bosnians of all ethnic groups went back to their homes last year, double the 1998 figure, and it expects a surge this year, almost 10 years after war broke out.

"Without SFOR protection, the entire process of refugee returns, the centerpiece of the Dayton implementation, could be thrown into jeopardy," Petritsch warned.

"I do not want to sound alarmist, but...our task is still unfinished: some of the hardest parts of it are yet to be encountered," he said. "We are now moving into a decisive phase of peace implementation.

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace treaty that ended the conflict divided Bosnia into two autonomous regions - the Moslem-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic.

Over 800,000 Bosnian Moslems, Croats and Serbs are still displaced throughout the country, with another 300,000 refugees abroad. The war left 200,000 people dead or missing.

Original article