UN: Bosnia encouraged by refugee returns, threatened by crime

SARAJEVO, Aug 16, 2000 -- (AFP) There has been an encouraging increase in refugee returns to Bosnia, but corruption and organized crime threaten the country's financial future, the UN Security Council heard Tuesday.

Bernard Miyet, head of the UN's department of peacekeeping operations, said that "during the last six months, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees registered over 19,500 minority returns."

This compared to "just over 2,000 returns registered in the same period last year," he told a public session of the council.

He said the figures "include returns to formerly hard-line areas in the Republika Srpska," the Bosnian Serb entity established by the 1995 Dayton accords which ended the three-year war in Bosnia.

He said 300 Bosniac, or Muslim, families had returned to the towns of Prijedor, Doboj, Visegrad and Foca.

Nancy Soderberg, a senior US diplomat, commented that "it is inspiring to see the dramatic increase in refugee returns, even of minority groups to areas that saw some of the most dramatic violence during the war."

She also welcomed the "slow but continuing progress in setting up the State Border Service", a multi-ethnic police force set up to patrol Bosnia's international borders.

Miyet said 358 officers were now assigned to the service: 176 Bosniacs, 114 Serbs, 67 Croats and one unspecified "other".

He said the force "has enabled the authorities and UNMIBH to gather reliable data on movements through the Sarajevo airport and the apparent organised use of the airport as a point of entry for illegal migration into Europe."

UNMIBH is the UN Mission in Bosnia and is tasked with training local police in two academies, one in the Republika Srpska, the other in the Muslim-Croat Federation which makes up the other half of Bosnia.

Miyet said that "nearly 450 minority officers are currently attending or have graduated from the two academies and 130 minority officers have been identified for redeployment across minority lines."

Soderberg said: "We are encouraged by signs that the nationalism and hatred of the past are slowly giving way to new respect for democracy and the rule of law."

She added: "We applaud efforts to remove or restrain all those standing in the way of Dayton's full implementation: the war criminals remaining at large, the organized criminals, and the nationalist extremists."

Spelling out the cost of organized crime, the Dutch ambassador to the United Nations, Peter van Walsum, said "it has been estimated that, every year, 500 million dollars of domestic revenue is lost due to smuggling, particularly of cigarettes."

Sums that large "imply that high-level government official must be involved," he said.

Quoting a World Bank report, due out on November 30, van Walsum said "Bosnia will have the greatest difficulty in meeting the conditions for further disbursements."

The budgets of the Republika Srpska and of the Muslim-Croat Federation showed "large gaps of about 30 percent of the total," he said.

"Without smuggling, there would be no budget deficit," he said.

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