World Leaders Pledge Balkan Reforms
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In this scarred city, President Clinton and the leaders of some 40 nations pledged today to push economic and democratic reforms for the Balkans in the hopes of creating an undivided Europe ``where war becomes unthinkable.″
``The stability pact for Southeast Europe was launched to ensure the horrors this city suffered in recent years will definitely belong to the past,″ said Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari at the opening of an international conference in this city that’s a symbol of war and recovery.
``The stability pact envisions a Europe at long last undivided, prosperous and free _ a Europe where war becomes unthinkable,″ he said.
Clinton pointed to progress in rebuilding Sarajevo as an example of a Balkans comeback. ``We have a lot more to do, but those who are overly critical should come here to see,″ he said.
At this one-day summit, the major powers committed to helping poor Balkan nations move beyond ancient ethnic hatreds that have torn the region many times since World War I.
Clinton proposed creating a Southeast Europe Trade Initiative that would grant duty-free status to many of the region’s exports to the United States, including footwear, glass products and ball bearings. The initiative would cost the United States between $50 million and $80 million over five years in lost tariff collections. The administration intended the duty-free trade privileges as a challenge for the European Union to do more in the area of trade benefits.
The leaders are expected to endorse an international pact to promote a healthier future for the Balkans. Goals include creating mature democracies and vibrant market economies, combating corruption and organized crime and preventing fresh wars and refugee crises.
But none of the economic assistance should go to Serbia as long as Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is in power, U.S. officials said, hoping the conference would further isolate Milosevic and show the Serb people that their best hopes lie in getting new leadership.
``The choice will be for the Serbian people to either participate in the rebuilding of this region or to be outside with their current leadership,″ said Sandy Berger, Clinton’s national security adviser.
In remarks for delivery during the closed door conference session, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the Stability Pact needed Yugoslavia to be truly successful.
But Schroeder added: ``It would be a disservice″ to the people of Yugoslavia ``if we now strengthen the regime in Belgrade.″
Milosevic, under indictment as a war criminal, was not invited. His political opponents were.
Nevertheless, the Russians urged a relaxation of a U.S.-backed ban on all but humanitarian aid to the Yugoslavia government because of its central position within the Balkans.
Russian Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin said the world should not punish Yugoslavia’s people by linking aid to Milosevic’s continued rule.
``Ten million people are at stake, who are living in very grave conditions, and the danger of a humanitarian catastrophe will turn real by winter,″ he said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Ahtisaari said he believed the turbulent region was ready for democratic change after a decade of ethnic conflict, which prompted the 78-day NATO bombing over Kosovo.
Bodo Hombach, Balkan coordinator for the European Union, emphasized the benefits of the Stability Pact would be extended to Yugoslavia if there was a clear move toward democratization.
``Regional cooperation is the key theme,″ Hombach said.
Ante Jelavic, one of Bosnia’s presidents, said the gathering of leaders ``will undoubtedly be motivation for further development of democracy, protection of human rights, confidence, stability and peace in the region.″
Clinton, in an earlier meeting with Bosnia’s three presidents, Jelavic, Zivko Radisic, and Alija Izetbegovic, praised their efforts to restore peace and begin economic reforms. Since he last came to Sarajevo in December 1997, he said a lot of the city had been rebuilt following four years of Serb shelling. ``It doesn’t even look like the same place I visited two years ago,″ he said.
About 4,000 international peacekeepers were deployed to protect the leaders. Numerous streets were closed to traffic, and most businesses were closed. On roads from the airport, residents were directed to stay off their balconies.
The site of the meeting is the Zetra sports complex, where the 1984 Winter Olympics were held _ a place that was devastated during the 1992-1995 siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces.
The conference was taking place in a city whose name symbolized the brutality of the ethnic conflicts which swept the Balkans following the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991.
In Belgrade, Milosevic’s underlings denounced the gathering. ``There is no united southeastern Europe without Yugoslavia,″ said Ivica Dacic, a spokesman for Milosevic’s ruling Socialist Party.