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UN envoy fears devastating new wars in Balkans

TOKYO, May 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) Southeastern Europe faces the threat of new and devastating wars unless the international community succeeds in creating a stable political order in the region, UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt said on Tuesday.

In a pessimistic speech to a conference organized by the Japanese government, Bild said stability in the Balkans was still a distant goal despite a decade of diplomatic efforts.

Bosnia has not yet agreed an election law, five years after its civil war ended, while more than 1.5 million refugees are still unable to return home after wars in Croatia and Bosnia.

But Bildt said there might soon be a new chance to move towards a comprehensive political settlement in the region, predicting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's days in power could be numbered.

"This might succeed - or it might fail. If it fails, we all know that there are sufficient fears and expectations in different parts of the region to move us rapidly towards new and devastating wars," Bildt said.

Although the West holds Milosevic primarily responsible for three Balkan wars in the 1990s, Bildt said the lack of an international consensus over the political shape of the region had fanned the flames of conflict.

"As long as different parts of the international community cannot agree on the structures of stability in the region, it is futile at best and foolish at worst to expect the different political forces in the region to be able to agree among themselves," Bildt, a former Swedish prime minister said.

MILOSEVIC'S DAYS NUMBERED?

It was urgent to end the disarray because the day when Milosevic, an indicted war criminal, is no longer in power in Belgrade might come sooner rather than later, Bildt said.

"Serbia is a system in serious decay which, day by day, shows increasing signs of severe instability and lawlessness," he said. The head of the provincial government of Yugoslavia's Vojvodina province was shot dead on Saturday, the latest in a series of high-profile killings in Serbia, the dominant Yugoslav republic.

The key to constructing a post-Milosevic political order would be to reintegrate Serbia into wider European structures and to remodel present-day Yugoslavia as a confederation of sovereign republics, Bildt said.

Such an arrangement is the stated objective of Montenegro, Serbia's junior partner in the Yugoslav federation. The tiny republic has been increasingly defiant of Belgrade, threatening to break away altogether unless its demands for reform are met.

But Bildt, while recognizing that the international community opposes independence for Kosovo, said a similar "constitutional separation" would be required one day for the province to ensure it is no longer ruled by Belgrade.

"This might look difficult today, but it is unavoidable tomorrow," Bildt said. "We must recognize that the structure of this present-day Yugoslavia is unsustainable."

Bildt said the only way to reconcile political foes was to substitute autonomy and integration for the 19th century concepts of nation state and sovereignty still prevalent in the Balkans.

This could be done through a structure of "layered sovereignty" firmly tied to the structures of the European Union and backed up by international guarantees.



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