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POLITICS: U.N. Peacekeepers to Leave Bosnia by Year-end

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2002 (IPS) - The United Nations announced Wednesday that it will formally withdraw its peacekeeping mission from Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of this year.

Jacques Paul Klein, the U.N.’s special representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, said that a decade of U.N. peacekeeping in the one-time politically troubled country is about to end.

”I believe that an objective assessment would show that our record was mixed, not disastrous,” he told reporters Wednesday.

The U.N. pullout will mark the end of a decade-long effort to keep the peace in a small European country: an effort that cost the lives of some 272 U.N. personnel.

Klein described the U.N. Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina (UNMIHB) as a ”success” not only for what it achieved but also for what it leaves behind.

But, unlike UNMIHB, most U.N. peacekeeping operations have been plagued by a rash of problems – political, financial and military.

Over the last few years, peacekeeping missions have been derailed or thwarted for several reasons: weak mandates, shortage of funds, ill-trained soldiers, paucity of troops, absence of basic military equipment and mismanagement at the ground level.

The United Nations has claimed peacekeeping successes in Namibia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Eastern Slovenia, the Central African Republic, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and at least partially, in Cambodia.

But its tragic failures, including Rwanda, Somalia, Haiti and Angola, have far outweighed its successes, according to some diplomats. In the April 1994 Rwandan genocide, nearly a million people were slaughtered, despite the presence of U.N. peacekeepers.

Klein attributed the success in Bosnia-Herzegovina to several factors: the ”unqualified success” of the recent elections in the country; the return to rule of law; and a crime rate lower than in most countries in Western Europe.

Additionally, Bosnia-Herzegovina is no longer the principal entry point into Europe for illegal immigrants. The number of suspected illegal immigrants has been reduced from nearly 25,000 in 2000, to a few hundred so far this year, he said.

”In other words, our success is not abstract – there are real results on the ground and in the wider region,” he added.

Police forces, he added, have been downsized by nearly 17,000 uniformed personnel – all trained to international policing standards.

As a result, UNMIBH has made it possible for the United Nations to handover the longer-term responsibility for monitoring police reform to a European Union Police Mission (EUPM) which will take over in January next year.

Klein said that all law enforcement institutions have been de-politicised and certified as meeting European norms and procedures. A state border service has been created – the most modern in the Balkans – to curb the flow of illegal immigrants.

The region’s most intensive programme to attack the ”insidious problem of trafficking in women” has led to the closing of half the country’s brothels and the repatriation of more than 200 victims.

Klein also said that heighened security in Bosnia-Herzegovina is giving refugees and internally displaced persons the confidence to return home. In the first half of 2002, over 60,000 members of minority groups returned, more than in the two previous years combined.

Speaking on behalf of the 15-member European Union (EU), Ambassador Ellen Margrethe Loj of Denmark told the Security Council on Tuesday she regretted the low participation in Bosnia’s elections in early October. Only 55 percent of the voting population turned up at the polls.

She said organised crime and corruption prevented progress and democratic developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina. ”Organised crime (is) a threat to the rule of law, democracy and human rights, as well as to social progress and economic reform,” she added.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is also facing an economic downturn. A country with a population of about four million people, it has an unemployment rate of about 40 percent and a per capita income of about one thousand U.S. dollars, down from 2,500 dollars in 1991.

Addressing the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, the U.N. High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina Paddy Ashdown called for urgent economic reforms.

He said that aid is tapering off, debts are mounting and foreign investment is not increasing to fill the void.

”A glance at the economic indicators tells you that the patient is hovering between the serious and critical list,” he told delegates.

Almost half the country’s population now lives close to the poverty line of 100 dollars a year. The country’s national wealth stands at less than half its pre-war level in 1990, and Bosnia-Herzegovina now ranks below Albania in the human development index formulated by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP).

”All of this has resulted in the seemingly unstoppable haemorrhage of Bosnia’s young and talented – our biggest export is our future, if you like,” Ashdown added.

Between 1996 and 2001, he said, nearly 92,000 Bosnians left the country, and polls show that over 60 percent of the rest would leave if they could.

”If we want to keep them, then we have no option but to steepen the gradient of reform,” he warned.

Ashdown said the region is still fragile, and parts of it are still prone to topple into crisis.

”Progress in the Balkans is often frustrating – two steps forward, one step back. But we must be careful not to mistake slow progress for no progress.”

 
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POLITICS: U.N. Peacekeepers to Leave Bosnia by Year-end

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 23 2002 (IPS) - The United Nations announced Wednesday that it will formally withdraw its peacekeeping mission from Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of this year.
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