Banking on Bosnia

BOSNIANS need some tangible evidence that the peace agreement forged last year is working. More than silenced guns, they need to see rebuilt roads, public services, businesses, and farms.

The recovery effort now getting under way in Bosnia, headed by the World Bank, will attempt to provide just such evidence. It not only deserves, but will require, extraordinary support, since the obstacles to its success are daunting.

Recent reports point to mounting conflict between returning refugees and those who now occupy their homes and neighborhoods. These confrontations, barely held under control by international peacekeepers, indicate how hotly nationalist fires still burn. Similar tensions could arise over jobs and services, as the country's economy struggles to revive.

Hence the need to get things moving quickly enough to dampen some of this destructive competition. The World Bank's program includes projects to bring in critical outside expertise and imports, to rebuild water and sanitation systems, to get agricultural production going, and to reestablish transportation grids.

The $424.4 million needed for these immediate projects comes from the bank itself, from the European Commission, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and a variety of other agency and country donors, including the United States. Pledges of further support already amount to $1.2 billion; the eventual reconstruction tab for Bosnia could top $5 billion.

The World Bank has opened an office in Sarajevo, from which it will try to coordinate the flow of funds and expertise. Outside contractors will do most of the work, but most of the labor will have to be local - both because of bank policies and because job-creation is crucial if Bosnia is to move toward stability. Men on all sides of the truce lines must find other occupations than toting guns.

Much, of course, depends on the cooperation forthcoming from the various Bosnian parties. It's by no means clear that Serb-held areas are prepared to take part in rebuilding predicated on knitting Bosnia together as a viable country. The Bosnian-Serb leaders - isolated and indicted as war criminals - are as likely as not to spurn international aid.

There's no assurance that the Bosnian government will prove an ideal partner, either. Nationalist feelings run deep there, too. It must make the transition not only from war to peace, but from the state-controlled economy many of its current leaders know to a modern market economy.

Bosnian politics could change as the fall elections approach. But change for the better, away from the inflammatory nationalism of recent years, could hinge largely on the progress made by the World Bank and others involved in the rebuilding push.

This is new ground for the bank, which has spent most of its half-century of existence trying, with mixed results, to spur third-world economic development. Its new mandate includes rebuilding in "post-conflict" areas. Gaza and the West Bank were already on its agenda.

Despite a tight time frame, with the US determined to withdraw its forces by year's end and continuing friction among Bosnia's former combatants, the rebuilding could accomplish enough to tip the balance away from renewed warfare. Much will depend on the faithfulness of the countries that have pledged their support. Perhaps even more will depend on the courage of Bosnians themselves: They must grasp the helping hand and start writing a new history.

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