With Winter's Arrival, Discontent Grows As Bosnia's Rebuilding Efforts Go Slowly

In Bosnia's mountainous former front-line regions, Claes Amundsen and his Red Cross colleagues regularly find people whose lives are in danger.

Villagers, many of them elderly or disabled, are facing death, not from bullets and mortars, but from winter exposure and hunger.

"We keep finding people who've been cut off by the war, living in demolished ruins without heat, electricity, food, or water," says Mr. Amundsen, whose colleagues at the Bosnian Red Cross/Red Crescent believe at least 20,000 are at serious risk. "We're not at war anymore, and people shouldn't have to live like this."

It's testimony to the brutal devastation of the Bosnian war that, a year after the US-brokered Dayton peace deal brought peace, reconstruction efforts have yet to reach many people.

While life has resumed a state of semi-normalcy in Sarajevo, in former front-line villages many may not survive the winter for lack of food or shelter.

The international community has invested $800 million in rebuilding the infrastructure needed to allow life to return to normal. An enormous amount has been accomplished, particularly in Sarajevo. Bridges, roads, schools, power plants, and sewer systems are being rebuilt. Most of the country has electricity and some running water.

But the task ahead is enormous. With most of the country in ruins, half the work force remains unemployed. Many who have work find it difficult to survive on average salaries of $150 a month.

With its factories and power stations in ruins, its fields strewn with mines, the Muslim-Croat Federation - one of two political entities within Bosnia as determined by the Dayton deal - depends on international aid for food and energy supplies.

Reconstruction is seen as essential to lasting peace. "The more normal one makes people's lives, then the less anger, hatred, and bitterness exists," says Sir Martin Garrod, European Union (EU) special representative in the divided city of Mostar, which the EU has spent more than $140 million trying to rebuild. "Reconstruction is vital because it reduces the risk of further bloodshed."

Although donors appreciate the link between economic recovery and lasting peace, the international community is well behind its optimistic reconstruction targets for this year. At the beginning of November, less than half of the $1.8 billion pledged by donors for 1996 had been disbursed. Total reconstruction costs are pegged at $50 billion.

"The idea was that by this time [Sarajevo] would be full of donated trams, buses, ambulances, and equipment, but that hasn't happened," says Tom Walker of the European Commission (EC), one of the largest donors to the project. "Part of the problem was just needing time to set up operations, but there are political difficulties as well."

ONE such difficulty is the intransigence of Republika Srpska, the second of two entities inside Bosnia. It has boycotted key donor conferences, thereby effectively denying itself aid. Srpska has received only 1.3 percent of the total reconstruction aid, according to the World Bank. Its economy continues to shrink.

This has caused a growing gap in the living standards of the two entities. The Muslim-Croat Federation has seen 80 percent economic growth over the past year, mostly due to international reconstruction contracts.

"Political conditions should be put on all aid," says analyst Chris Bennett of the International Crisis Group. "If Srpska doesn't abide by its Dayton commitments - such as turning over war criminals - it should be cut off. If the gap between the Srpska and Federation economies continues to grow, it will provide powerful pocketbook incentive for closer integration."

The international reconstruction project faces internal political difficulties as well.

Sources say much of this year's aid shortfall is due to France, which has effectively frozen much EC aid because it feels French contractors are not receiving enough work.

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