Big Donors Try to Put Bosnia Together Again

IT took decades and billions of dollars to rebuild Europe after World War II. Rebuilding Bosnia is nearly as daunting.

The task, taken up at international talks in London last weekend, will be "the largest and most significant reconstruction and rehabilitation program since 1945," according to James Gow, a war specialist at King's College, London.

It will also be "long, difficult, and very costly," says Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt, who will lead the operation.

The nearly four-year war in Bosnia has left more than 2 million refugees and shattered the country's infrastructure. And the cost of rebuilding and helping people return to their homes can prompt sticker shock.

A World Bank estimate provisionally adopted by foreign ministers at the conference put the bill at $4.9 billion over three years. This does not include emergency humanitarian aid that may cost $100 million.

Unlike the Marshall Fund, through which the United States financed Europe's postwar industrial recovery, Bosnia will get the help of at least 42 countries and 10 international organizations, who have formed a Peace Implementation Council (PIC) to carry out a civilian reconstruction program that builds on the peace agreement hammered together by the US.

But Bosnia's tangled ethnic conflicts leave many obstacles that could still block the peace accord, let alone the rebuilding process.

France's Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said that unless by late yesterday he was given information about two French pilots downed over Bosnia last August, his government would take unspecified measures against the Bosnian Serbs.

The measures, French sources said, were likely to include the reimposition of sanctions against Belgrade, but British Foreign Minister Malcom Rifkind said he believed "the Paris signing will go ahead as scheduled."

Prime Minister Bildt's most demanding task will be to coordinate civilian aid and reconstruction programs with the planned deployment of some 60,000 NATO troops who will monitor the peace.

It will be "extremely difficult for a serious civil reconstruction program to operate alongside a massive military presence," said Paul Rogers, a professor at Bradford University near Leeds and an expert on conflict resolution. "There is also the problem of demilitarizing local forces, who will be reluctant to return to a peacetime footing."

On the fringe of the London talks, some criticized the implementation of the accord reached last month in Dayton, Ohio. Robin Cook, foreign affairs spokesman of Britain's opposition Labour Party, said humanitarian aid in Bosnia should be "used as a lever" to promote human rights and support political and other groups which "respect pluralism rather than ethnicity."

Some economists also criticized World Bank involvement in the international aid effort. Mary Kaldor of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, a human rights pressure group, said the World Bank would "use conservative and inflation criteria" in making decisions and was unlikely to emphasize job creation.

The task the PIC has set itself is described by Professor Rogers as "monumental and complex, but essential if the Dayton accord is to have real meaning on the ground."

"It is going to require a huge effort not only to rebuild Bosnia after so much damage has been done, but also to persuade the many people who have fled their homes that it is safe for them to return," Rogers says. "You cannot expect people to return to towns and villages that remain devastated."

Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that it was "essential that people go back to their homes." Under no circumstances should they be held in refugee camps, where problems may erupt.

The US has made it clear that it expects a major contribution from European nations and Japan, but final statements at the London conference conspicuously failed to mention any detailed financial agreements that may have been struck.

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