Sun, Jun 25, 2006 - Page 6 News List

International envoy to Bosnia to close office next year

NORMALIZATION More than 10 years after the war, the more than 40 nations implementing a peace plan are preparing to reduce their presence

AFP , SARAJEVO

The internationally appointed High Representative overseeing post-war development of Bosnia will bow out in a year, the current holder of the office said on Friday, in view of the progress the country has achieved.

"We have decided to close the Office of the High Representative. The office will close on June 30 next year and preparations for the closure will start immediately," Christian Schwarz-Schilling told reporters.

The decision was made by the Peace Implementation Council, set up under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended Bosnia's 1992-1995 war.

It comprises more than 40 members including EU states, the US, Russia, and a number of international organizations.

The move is seen as a sign of progress in normalization for the country more than a decade after the brutal war that claimed some 200,000 lives, left 2.2 million homeless and destroyed the economy.

The High Representative has the power to sack elected officials for obstructionism and impose vital laws, which Schwarz-Schilling's predecessors did not hesitate to use.

"Today's nature of the international community's involvement in Bosnia must change as the country moves from peace implementation to Euro-Atlantic integration," Schwarz-Schilling said.

Schwarz-Schilling, who is also EU Special Representative here, stressed that the international community would remain "fully engaged" in Bosnia through "reinforced" involvement of the EU, continued presence of EU peacekeepers, NATO and other organizations.

Following the closure of the office of the High Representative Schwarz-Schilling will remain the EU Special Representative playing a coordinating and advising role.

Bosnia's Serb and Muslim-Croat officials reacted differently to the announcement.

"It is extremely good for Bosnia because institutions and local politicians will be able, at last, to take responsibility again," Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic, a Bosnian Serb, said.

"It will be a serious sign ... but the political chiefs will be obliged to agree among themselves instead of waiting for others to carry out their wishes," he added.

The president of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, Sulejman Tihic, a Muslim, had on the other hand warned a day earlier that by closing the office the international community could hinder Bosnia's reform process.

Schwarz-Schilling's predecessor, former British politician Paddy Ashdown, was criticized by some analysts for acting like a "colonial-style governor" during his 44 months of rule in Bosnia.

In particular he made waves by firing many public officials, often for obstructing Bosnia's cooperation with the UN war crimes tribunal.

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