BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA CONTINUES TO MAKE PROGRESS TOWARDS BECOMING MODERN EUROPEAN COUNTRY, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

3 March 2004
SC/8019

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA CONTINUES TO MAKE PROGRESS TOWARDS BECOMING MODERN EUROPEAN COUNTRY, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

03/03/2004
Press ReleaseSC/8019

Security Council                                           

4920th Meeting (AM)                                         

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA CONTINUES TO MAKE PROGRESS TOWARDS BECOMING

MODERN EUROPEAN COUNTRY, SECURITY COUNCIL TOLD

But High Representative Also Says Time Is Short For Country

To Meet Conditions for Partnership for Peace, Stabilization Agreement

Bosnia and Herzegovina continued to make progress towards a return to normality, towards becoming a modern European country, Paddy Ashdown, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, told the Security Council today.

Briefing the Council on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said time was short for the country to meet the conditions both for joining a Partnership for Peace (PfP) and to qualify for the launch of a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA).  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) hoped that the country would be ready for PfP membership in time for the organization’s June 2004 Summit in Istanbul.

At the same time, he said, there were continuing efforts to crack down on the support networks of indicted war criminals in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The necessary legal orders had been enacted to freeze the bank accounts of 10 individuals supporting Radovan Karadzic and to remove several of them from office, including the vice-president of the ruling party in the Republika Srpska.  Measures were also being taken to establish a domestic capacity to prosecute war criminals.

The Office of the High Representative continued to press authorities in the Republika Srpska to do their part in establishing exactly what had happened at Srebrenica, he said.  The Srebrenica Commission, created in December, was gathering information on the 1995 massacre committed there, and the Prime Minister had been informed that any attempt to obstruct the Commission’s work would be regarded as a clear effort to obstruct the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Ireland’s representative, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), especially improved cooperation in arresting and transferring indictees to The Hague, was vital for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s further movement towards membership in the European Union.  That would also contribute to the significant progress being made in Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the creation of a society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The European Union was closely involved in ensuring security in the country through the European Union Police Mission and had confirmed its readiness to undertake a follow-on mission to the multinational stabilization force (SFOR) within the context of European integration.

Adnan Terzic, Chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers, told the Council that his country was well on its way through the process of transition -- another positive example of efficient international intervention and of how a post-conflict country could become active in the overall stabilization of an entire region.  The ultimate goal was to put Bosnia and Herzegovina irreversibly on the road to Statehood in the European Union.  This year, the Government wanted to set up its own commissions to shift responsibility for reform to local actors.

Croatia’s representative said that European Union membership for all the countries of South-East Europe was the best incentive for the reform process in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It would promote democratic stability and the expansion of the European zone of peace and cooperation.  Croatia wished to have an integral and unified Bosnia And Herzegovina as a neighbour and partner and supported the new dynamic emerging in that country, which appeared ready to embrace the reform process.

The Council also heard today from the representatives of Chile, Russian Federation, Spain, Angola, Germany, United Kingdom, Philippines, Romania, Brazil, China, Pakistan, United States, Benin, Algeria and France.

Jean-Marie Guénenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, also made a statement.

The meeting began at 10:11 a.m. and adjourned at 1:07 p.m.

Background

The Security Council met this morning to hear a briefing by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the situation in that country.

Statement by High Representative

PADDY ASHDOWN, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said there had been real achievements in the fields of defence, intelligence reform, customs and indirect tax.  Bosnia and Herzegovina now had two clear goals that were within sight if it kept up the pace of reform.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had made clear that the country would be eligible to join Partnership for Peace (PfP) if it met conditions relating to defence and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  And the European Commission had set 16 practical conditions on which Bosnia and Herzegovina must make progress if it were to begin negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement.

He said that both the European Union and NATO wanted to see evidence that Bosnia and Herzegovina was making the necessary reforms to integrate with Euro-Atlantic structures of its own accord.  Time was short for the country to meet the conditions both for Partnership for Peace and to qualify for the launch of the Stabilization and Association Agreement.  The NATO hoped that the country could be ready for PfP membership in time for the June 2004 NATO Summit in Istanbul.  Nevertheless, the reform process was too slow to achieve those targets.

Regarding defence, he said the Defence Reform Commission had reached agreement on the establishment of State-level command and control over Bosnia and Herzegovina’s armed forces, including the creation of a single State-level Defence Minister and a Joint Chiefs of Staff –- a collective command authority vested in the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency.  On intelligence, the country had made difficult yet decisive strides towards creating a unified Intelligence-Security Agency at the State level.  Just last week, the Lower House of Parliament had adopted a bill establishing that agency.  Tomorrow, the Upper House was expected to complete that process.

Another key challenge had been attempting to provide the city of Mostar with a single statute that would serve the interests of all its citizens, he said.  Last year, a commission had been formed by the local authorities to reform the city, but it had failed to make significant progress.  While a further commission had reached agreement on a wide range of issues, agreement on a couple of important outstanding questions, such as an election system and the future of city-municipalities, had proved elusive.

Regarding the rule of law, he said that the main defendant in probably the biggest human-trafficking case in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history had pleaded guilty before the newly established State Court.  More recently, a one time Croat member of the country’s presidency, Ante Jelavic, was now in a Sarajevo jail awaiting trial on serious corruption charges.

At the same time, he said, efforts were continuing to crack down on the support networks of indicted war criminals.  On 9 February, in liaison with the multinational stabilization force (SFOR) and the United States, the necessary legal orders had been enacted to freeze the bank accounts of 10 individuals supporting Radovan Karadzic and to remove several of them from office, including the vice-president of the ruling party in the Republika Srpska.  Measures were also being taken towards establishing the domestic capacity to prosecute war criminals.

He said his Office continued to press the Republika Srpska authorities to do their part in establishing exactly what had happened at Srebrenica.  The Srebrenica Commission, created by that Government in December, was gathering information on the massacre committed there in 1995 and was committed to providing a final report.  The High Representative had informed the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska that any attempt to obstruct the Commission’s work would be regarded as a clear effort to obstruct the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The economy remained a major worry, he said.  While there was little fear of a return to ethnic conflict, the continuing perilous state of the economy, or its further deterioration, could have implications for the country’s social stability.  A key objective in stimulating much-needed job creation was to improve the business environment by introducing a legal and administrative framework to encourage foreign and domestic investment.

He said the lack of jobs was regularly cited as a reason why many refugees still had not returned to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  But on the whole, the story of refugee return had been remarkably positive.  According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the total number of registered returns had risen to nearly 1 million people by the end of last year, including some 4,300 so-called minority returns.  Meanwhile, the countrywide property-repossession rate had risen to more than 90 per cent.  While a few municipalities had fallen short, those failures were due to bureaucratic difficulties rather than political obstruction –- a promising sign.

Recalling the death earlier this year of Sven Frederiksen, the first Commissioner of the European Union Police Mission, he said that Kevin Carty would take up his post as the new Commissioner in the next few weeks.  One of the policing issues that would command his attention was the growing number of challenges to the United Nations-led police certification process.  Currently, more than 150 non-certified officers had asked the courts to assess the legality of their employer’s decision to dismiss them on the grounds that they had not been certified by the United Nations/International Police Task Force (IPTF).

Even though most of those proceedings were currently pending, in January, the first non-certified police officer had been reinstated by order of a local court, he said.  The Bosnia and Herzegovina Human Rights Chamber had also now decided that it was competent to examine whether such dismissals had been carried out in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights.  The United Nations decertification process had weeded out police officers whose past, particularly during the war, disqualified them from remaining on the force.  That process must not be allowed to unravel.

Statement by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations

JEAN-MARIE GUÉHENNO, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, referred to paragraphs 66 and 67 of the High Representative’s report regarding continuing efforts by former police officers in Bosnia and Herzegovina to have themselves reinstated by the courts.  The Commissioner of the International Police Task Force (IPTF) had deemed those officers unsuitable to serve on the police force following an exhaustive two-year vetting process undertaken in accordance with the General Framework Agreement for Peace, Security Council resolutions and the decisions of the Madrid meetings of the Peace Implementation Council.

He emphasized that the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities remained under an obligation to give effect to those decisions, an obligation that was binding under international law.  The United Nations Secretariat shared the High Representative’s view on the political importance of the challenges to the outcomes of the vetting process.  It also firmly endorsed his view on the need for an early solution.  To that end, while the United Nations no longer had a mandate to act in the area of police reform, the Secretariat had sought to provide every assistance to the High Representative since he had first brought those challenges to its attention last year.

Unfortunately, neither the Secretariat’s support nor the High Representative’s actions had been sufficient to resolve that question, he noted.  The courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina had ordered the reinstatement of at least one former officer deemed unsuitable to serve the people of that country.  As a result, and at the request of the High Representative, legal experts from the United Nations and international agencies operating in Sarajevo, including the Office of the High Representative, had been engaged in discussions to identify a workable course of action.

Statements

ADNAN TERZIC, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said his country was no longer the focus of the international community the way it once had been -– it was now “just another European country well on its way through the process of transition.  Bosnia and Herzegovina was another positive example of efficient international intervention and of how a post-conflict country could become active in the overall stabilization of an entire region.  Considerable efforts and a great deal of coordination had been required on the part of the international community and the local authorities, he said, adding that “I dare say, that we are now, all of us together, close to the finish line.”

The ultimate goal was to put Bosnia and Herzegovina irreversibly on the road to statehood in the European Union, he said.  He, therefore, called on the Council to continue its support of all efforts in that regard and assured the 15-nation body that his Government was not merely paying “lip service” to its determination and commitment to complete the reforms currently under way.  Indeed, the Government was actively taking steps to prove its determination, especially in the eras of economics, democratic institution-building, and establishing the rule of law.  With action under way on the targets set by the European Commission, the Government was also determined to start the negotiations for signing of the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union this year.

To that end, the country was already at work on a set of outlined priorities.  A Law on Defense, which provided for the establishment of a Defence Ministry and full civilian control of the armed forces, had been adopted.  The Law on Indirect Taxation was also beginning to be enforced.  He went on to stress the burgeoning and positive partnership between the Government, Mr. Ashdown, and the international community.  But nevertheless, this year, the Government wanted to set up its own commissions to deal with reform issues, and for the Office of the High Representative to be on hand to provide expert assistance and logistics and to make sure European standards were being upheld.  In that way, responsibility would shift to local actors, which he believed could take on such tasks.

“In my opinion, this is the only way of taking over the responsibilities for the future and taking the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina into our own hands”, he continued.  He foresaw a “prosperous future and economic stability” for his country within he European Union.  Aware that regional cooperation was a key element to success in that regard, the Government had done much recently to promote such cooperation.  A recent statement issued by the Prime Ministers of seven countries in the region had underlined the importance of stronger and more open cooperation between the countries of South-East Europe, particularly in light of changing the region’s image and attracting foreign investments.

He added that economic progress and prosperity in the region depended upon its stability, and the Government was continually working to improve its bilateral relations with neighbouring countries.  He stressed that with the coming replacement of NATO forces with a European Union task force, the Government expected the Council’s full engagement in defining the exact mandate of that force.  He also said that while enormous progress had been made -– indeed a “huge job” had been done in Bosnia and Herzegovina –- more hard work needed to be put in, and more joint efforts needed to be made on domestic and international issues.  He assured the Council that the country’s authorities would make whatever efforts necessary to fulfil the common goal of full political stability and economic sustainability.  He opened his statement today expressing condolences to the people of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the recent tragic loss of President Boris Trajkovski and his associates.

HERALDO MUÑOZ (Chile) said his delegation agreed with the High Representative that only through exercising the rule of law, and by ensuring economic reforms and institution-building would Bosnia and Herzegovina continue on the path of shaking off the fateful years of the 1990s.  He said the progress in the country deserved the Council’s recognition, particularly refugee-return initiatives and the promulgation of laws on defence and taxation.  He hoped that further reforms would ensure that the county became more modern and prosperous and capable of tackling terrorism and organized crime.

Notwithstanding the obvious and sound successes, political tensions remained, particularly between the ethnic groups, he said.  There was need to improve the administration of public facilities.  Also, the international community needed to join forces against those that sought to undermine the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  There should be full cooperation of all States and regional actors in that regard, particularly in arresting those indictees that remained at large.  Chile would continue to cooperate with the reforms under way.  It had provided police officers and troops and would continue to do its utmost to ensure that the country achieved peace and prosperity.

SERGEY LAVROV (Russian Federation) commended the achievements made in defence reform and other areas referred to by the High Representative and the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.  However, real advances could only be made through the achievement of a true consensus among all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Dayton peace agreement remained the optimal basis of a settlement, which could only be ensured by a consensus of all the people.

Stressing that the High representative’s report was justified in emphasizing the challenge of organized crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said the same attention must also be paid to combating the problem of terrorism.  In addition, the Russian Federation underscored the need to send a clear signal to the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities against any attempt not to honour the efforts of the various international presences in the country.

INOCENCIO ARIAS (Spain), aligning himself with the European Union, welcomed the progress made in strengthening the rule of law.  That would bring the country closer to a European-standard system of justice.  Spain supported the idea of a judicial chamber to deal with war criminals.  It also recognized the High Representative’s initiative to bring about national reconciliation.

He welcomed the work of the Refugee Return Task Force, particularly regarding the restoration of property rights.  Spain also welcomed efforts to establish a State information protection agency.  However, his country was concerned about the economic stagnation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which had led to a worsening economic and social situation that could lead to an explosive medium- and long-term situation in the country.

ISMAEL ABRÃAO GASPAR MARTINS (Angola) applauded the efforts undertaken by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the areas of national reconciliation, peace-building and the launching of a self-sustaining peace-loving country based on the rule of law.  The commitment of Lord Ashdown to put the country on the road to self-government had been augmented by the efforts of the international community to ensure the three pillars of nation-building, including establishing effective judicial institutions, market economy and a functioning public administration.  He added that the establishment of a war crimes chamber within the State court of Bosnia and Herzegovina was important to ongoing efforts to promote justice and national reconciliation.  That move would also be crucial to the further establishment of the rule of law.

The economic reforms under way to stimulate growth and job creation were also important, he said.  The establishment of a countrywide indirect taxation system which would guarantee a source of income for the State Treasury had also been important, as had been the establishment of a Law of Defence.  Turning to some challenges, he stressed that there was a need to put an end to parallel structures that had divided the city of Mostar along ethnic lines.  Angola was encouraged by the pace of return of displaced persons -- the desire of such large numbers of people to return to their homes was a clear sign of just how much work had been done in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.  The country was a clear success story, and he hoped that the remaining benchmarks were met with success in the shortest period of time.

GUNTER PLEUGER (Germany), pledging his country’s support to the reforms under way in Bosnia and Herzegovina, highlighted the marked improvements that had been made in areas such as security, currency stability, return of refugees and constitutional equality of the three ethnic groups.  But there were still some shortcomings:  State structures still did not always perform the way they were supposed to; there still seemed to be a considerable lack of identification of the main ethnic groups with the joint States of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and there was still no self-sustaining economy.

The peace process now seemed to be entering a decisive phase, with the Dayton Accords remaining at the heart of that process, but the so-called “European perspective” was gaining increasing importance, he continued.  Both the European Union and NATO had made cleat that they were prepared to open their doors to a multi-ethnic, reform-minded Bosnia and Herzegovina.  “The responsibility for progress on that road now lies with the political leaders of [the country]”, he added.  Moving forward, the pace of reform would determine the pace of the country’s future integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

He said that successful reform in the 16 areas identified by the European Union –- including fighting organized crime and making headway in areas such as the rule of law in public administration -– was a prerequisite for further progress towards Union integration.  He went on to stress an issue of major concern -- the question of war criminals -- saying that the Council believed that Bosnia and Herzegovina was now able, with international assistance, to bring such persons to justice in national courts.  Acceptance of that responsibility was an important indicator of the country’s political will to gain ownership of its domestic matters.  Germany considered the establishment of a war crimes chamber at the State level to be “urgent and important”, he said, reiterating the Council’s call last August to support the establishment of such a special chamber.

On the issue of “decertification” of police officers in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he said that legal certainty must be established as swiftly as possible.  Only then could the process of reforming the country’s law enforcement institutions be carried forward without backlashes.  Overall, he said that while the High Representative had given important impetus to reform issues, the responsibility for implementation was with the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Germany believed that the Government could assume even greater responsibility and that it had still not fully assumed “ownership” of the process.  What was needed now was the creation of a sustainable, self-supporting reform process, otherwise, there was a real danger that the ambitious objectives, particularly European Union membership and membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace, would remain unachievable.

EMYR JONES PARRY (United Kingdom), associating himself with the European Union, said that very considerable success had been achieved in Bosnia and Herzegovina given the dark legacy of the war.  There were two clear routes that would anchor the State into Euro-Atlantic structures:  to locate its relations with its neighbours within the European Union; and membership in Partnership for Peace, a key goal that would make further internal conflict much less likely.

He said the arrest and delivery to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were essential.  Those harbouring the two war crimes indictees did absolutely no favours to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The two must be brought to justice in The Hague, and until that was done there could be no justice, and the international community would not have finished its job.

Regarding the decertification of police officers, he said the IPTF appeared to have taken proper decisions, despite technical flaws.  The situation should be regularized, and the Security Council should support a fair, defensible review procedure that would apply to those appealing decisions.  The system should not be capricious or open the way for individuals who had been rightfully excluded.

He asked what the High Representative saw as the impact on Bosnia and Herzegovina of developments in Serbia and Montenegro.  What was the exit strategy for the international community and the time scale for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move to a normal relationship with it?

LAURO L. BAJA (Philippines) said that, given the steady progress reported today, the debate was not as sexy as it had been in previous years.  But it was good for the international community, good for the people of the country and region and good for the Security Council.  It meant, among other things, that the efforts of the international community to build a self-sustaining State in Bosnia and Herzegovina were entering their final phase.  He added that the success also meant that the people of the country now had a national identity, a sense of history, the past and importantly, the future.

Still, the Philippines took note of concerns raised about the police certification process.  It was unfortunate that those persons denied certification –- largely due to participation in war crimes -– had been able to take advantage of certain loopholes in existing laws.  His delegation looked forward to improvement in that area.  He also expressed concern about war criminals who remained at large, and in that regard supported all proposals for the creation of a war crimes chamber at the State level to strengthen the work under way in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

It was incumbent upon the international community to be strong and remain engaged, he said, stressing that it was equally important that international actors let the people of the country know that they were strong and engaged.  He applauded Lord Ashdown’s efforts to ensure that the country continued on the irreversible path towards self-sufficiency and European statehood.

MIHNEA MOTOC (Romania), aligning himself with the European Union, said Bosnia and Herzegovina was important to his country, which attached great importance to the Dayton structures and welcomed the progress that had been made on the ground.  Bosnia and Herzegovina’s goals of integration with the European Union and NATO had played a key role in those achievements.

He said that while much remained to be done, all the measures aimed at Euro-Atlantic rapprochement gave a clear impression of what Bosnia and Herzegovina needed to pursue.  The recent steps taken by the country’s authorities concerning the appointment of military officials marked significant progress to reform the armed forces.  Romania also welcomed the latest progress in the return of refugees and the restoration of property rights, which could yield a model for the entire region.  Romania was also deeply interested in the reform of police forces and combating organized crime, and was working with Bosnia and Herzegovina to develop sound cooperation on the political and economic levels.

HENRIQUE VALLE (Brazil) said his delegation welcomed the reform process under way in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the adoption of a Civil Procedure Code and the establishment of a State-level High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council.  Those were but two examples of what was possible through dialogue and cooperation.  Multi-ethnic structures were being created or were already in place, which showed that ethnic barriers could always be surmounted through dialogue and political and economic joint endeavours.  Brazil also took note of the progress made concerning the implementation of the War Crimes Chamber Project, as well as programmes for the return of refugees and displaced persons.

Nevertheless, the Council was aware that some challenges still needed to be addressed, he said, noting hindrances to efforts to ensure the State-level joint command and control of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s armed forces, and the pending negotiations on elaborating a statute on the city of Mostar.  He went on to draw attention to the important role and constructive engagement of other partners in the reform process, particularly the European Commission and the multinational stabilization force (SFOR).  He also stressed the sizeable contribution provided by the European Union Police Mission (EUPM) to the stabilization of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Finally, Brazil was encouraged that the Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia and Montenegro were taking further steps to build better neighbourly relations towards the consolidation of peace.

WANG GUANGYA (China) said his delegation was pleased to hear about the many positive developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely, that ethnic relations were improving; the return of refugees was nearing completion; and relationships with neighbouring countries were improving everyday.  Those and other changes had not been achieved easily or lightly, he added, applauding the dedication of the people, the country and the commitment of the Government to ensure that the reforms under way reached a successful conclusion on all fronts.

Still, he said it was important to note that challenges indeed remained, particularly as capacity-building of institutions at the State level needed further improvement, and law enforcement and judicial reforms still needed to be pushed through.  He urged the High Representative to make those issues a priority in the first half of the year.  Peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a great bearing on peace in the region, and China would continue to actively support all relevant efforts.

MUNIR AKRAM (Pakistan) said that Bosnia and Herzegovina today was a far cry from the killing fields and ethnic cleansing of the past decade.  That was a testament to the sustained commitment by the international community.  But the credit for the progress made went largely to the people and leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina, who had demonstrated a determination to rebuild a nation that had been torn apart by hate, aggression and international intrigue.

He expressed appreciation for the High Representative’s efforts in promoting the rule of law, in facilitating the return of refugees, in supporting efforts for reconstruction and economic reforms, and in restructuring the administrative structures and building the capacity for production and employment.  All that was contributing positively towards moving Bosnia and Herzegovina a little further along the path towards peace and national integration.

However, all was not completely well in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he noted.  The restoration of pre-war coexistence remained an aspiration, not a reality.  The High Representative had spoken of the slow pace of reforms, which undermined national integration.  Success achieved in Brcko had yet to be replicated in Mostar.  Moreover, the peace process remained under threat from organized crime networks, extreme nationalists and war criminals.  It appeared that Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic could not be found in an area much smaller than the Pakistan-Afghanistan border where Osama bin Laden was thought to be hiding.

He said that while his country recognized that Bosnia and Herzegovina’s future lay in Europe, the country was not only European; it had a unique identity and history –- an old history and a more tragic recent history.  Possibilities should be explored for the United Nations, and for bodies like the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to work in concert with the European Union and other European entities to realize their common objectives in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

JAMES CUNNINGHAM (United States) welcomed the real progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina and noted the important steps taken in defence reform, the implementation of a countrywide value added tax and customs service, continued return of refugees and displaced persons, and a new statute for Mostar.  All those developments and more reflected the desire of the people of the country to move beyond the division and destructiveness of war and to ensure that they became active participants in the international community.  In all regards, he applauded the work of the High Representative, and he pledged the continued support of the United States as Lord Ashdown faced the challenges ahead.

He also applauded Bosnia and Herzegovina’s moves to address the issue of war crimes, particularly the decision to block assets of identified war criminals.  That and other actions sent a message to the people of the region, as well as the wider international community, of the country’s desire to see that all such criminals faced justice.  He added that the failure to hand over indicted criminals was hindering the country’s efforts at national reconciliation.  Failure to act in that regard not only held back all the people of the region, but particularly those of the Republica Srpska as they all struggled to achieve reconciliation and Euro-Atlantic integration.

The United States had been pleased to hear that efforts were under way to re-energize the establishment of a war crimes chamber and looked forward to further updates on the matter as the process moved forward.  He commended the State-level legislation on control over the armed forces, but slow implementation of that law was having a negative effect.  Therefore, a capable Defence Minister should be appointed as soon as possible to head up a relevant Ministry.  He echoed the call for faster progress on critical issues and reform.  The United States would stand ready with other nations to help move the country towards democracy and self-sufficiency.

EDOUARD AHO-GLELE (Benin) noted that institutions were being put in place gradually in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  A large number of refugees and displaced persons were returning to their homes.  Benin called on the authorities to seek optimal solutions to institutional problems, especially in the work of the police and war crimes chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

He said that the maintenance of the status quo in Mostar ran the real risk of destabilizing the situation in the country.  Benin encouraged the High Representative to pursue dialogue with the various parties in order to ensure reconciliation.  It was hoped that it would be possible to establish a harmonious future in the city, as well as fruitful relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s neighbours.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said the reform process served to make the country a strong and stable State.  Algeria welcomed the transfer of certain powers from various entities to the central Government.  The progress made in strengthening the State was also represented by the establishment of a system of indirect taxation.  Bosnia and Herzegovina would be able to build on those achievements.

He said the reunification of Mostar, in addition to being highly symbolic, would also heal the ethnic divisions that had beset the city.  The new legal system had set out to guarantee respect for the law and to create a mechanism that could take over from the former Yugoslav Tribunal and ensure the successful completion of its work, including the search for those indicted of war crimes.  It was also encouraging that almost a million refugees had returned to their homes, and it was hoped that more would do the same.

JEAN-MARC DE LA SABLIERE (France), President of the Council, speaking in his national capacity, reaffirmed his country’s support for the priorities set by Lord Ashdown, namely, consolidating the rule of law, return of refugees and displaced persons, and reforming public institutions.  Those advances would assist in building a modern State compatible with eventual integration into the European Union.

He stressed that the Council needed to be ever vigilant to monitor the tangible implementation of the reforms under way.  Noting some local resistance to certain initiatives, he stressed the importance of cooperation by all the authorities of the country, particularly regarding the certification of police officers and the work under way in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

RICHARD RYAN (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated countries, said that the European Union-Western Balkans summit in Thessaloniki last June had confirmed clearly that the shared objective of the European Union and the countries of the region was their integration into European structures.  That would be achieved through the implementation of the strengthened Stabilization and Association Process.  The rate at which the countries of the region made further progress towards the European Union was effectively now in their own hands.  It would depend on their individual performance in implementing reforms, with the full cooperation of the European Union.

He said that last November the European Commission had presented its feasibility study on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s preparedness to negotiate a Stabilization and Association Agreement.  The European Union called on the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to strengthen its efforts towards meeting the 16 wide-ranging priorities -– including the improving governance and administration, cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, strengthening the fight against organized crime and corruption, improvements in the rule of law, human rights reform and economic reforms –- which the feasibility study identified as being essential for making any decision on the opening of Stabilization and Association Agreement negotiations.

The European Union strongly supported the clear message set out in Security Council resolution 1503 (2003), which expressed the need for the countries in the region to improve and intensify their cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, he said.  Full cooperation with the Tribunal, especially improved cooperation in arresting and transferring indictees to The Hague, was vital for the further movement towards the European Union, as was compliance with the Tribunal’s requests for documents, access to archives and availability of witnesses.

Expressing the European Union’s support for the High Representative’s ongoing work to establish a special chamber for war crimes within Bosnia and Herzegovina’s State court, he said that was an important step in the building of the country’s institutions of justice.  It would contribute to the significant progress being made in Bosnia and Herzegovina towards the creation of a society based on the rule of law and respect for human rights.  The European Union was closely involved in ensuring security in the country through the European Union Police Mission (EUPM) and had confirmed its readiness to undertake a follow-on mission to SFOR, within the context of European integration and a comprehensive and coherent approach to Bosnia and Herzegovina.

VLADIMIR DROBNJAK (Croatia) said his country remained vitally interested in the developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina and understood that the prospect for clear and unambiguous European Union membership for all the countries of South-East Europe was the best incentive for the reform process in those respective countries, as well as the wider region.  Union membership would promote democratic stability and expansion of the European zone of peace, cooperation and development of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  “We are aware of the opportunity unfolding in front of us”, he said, “and of the responsibility that comes with it.  We stand ready to undertake both.”

He said that Croatia wished to have an integral and unified Bosnia And Herzegovina for its neighbour and partner, a State with strong institutions and uniform economic mechanisms that cooperated with all the other States in the region.  Mutual political relations between the two countries opened promising prospects for advancement on the economic front, he continued.  The bilateral free trade agreement between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina had been in force since 2001, and trade exchange had grown annually by some 30 per cent -– totalling some $1 billion last year.  Croatia was also one of the largest investors in Bosnia and Herzegovina and considered that country an important market.

He pointed out that Croatia’s investments were much more than financial -– they were high-return investments in the stability, cooperation, development and democracy of South-East Europe.  Croatia also supported the reforms under way in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly in strengthening the judiciary system, reform of the military sector and creation of a single market.

A new dynamic also seemed to be emerging within Bosnia and Herzegovina’s political body, which appeared ready to embrace the reform process.  Croatia supported that positive development, he said, adding that while the process of assuming ownership of one’s future was a daunting task, it was the only way to move forward and create a viable State ready to successfully perform in the European and global arenas.

Mr. TERZIC, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, referring to the exit strategy for the international community, said it was clear as far as his country was concerned.  As a member of the European Union and NATO, it had been given a clear deadline and wanted support and encouragement to that end.

Calling for the promotion of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a success story in the international community, he said the High Representative should be supported in his intention to transfer his powers to local authorities.  Bosnia and Herzegovina needed support in fighting organized crime, as well as help in creating a positive environment for implementing measures towards that goal.

Regarding the decertification of police officers, he said Bosnia and Herzegovina accepted its international obligations and, like any other country, was committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, which was part of its national law.  It was also committed to other international human rights instruments and was doing its utmost to meet all its other obligations.

Response by High Representative

Lord ASHDOWN, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, said he was encouraged by the support of Security Council members.  Regarding the question of police certification, it was up to the Council to decide and define clearly the mandate of the EUPM to assume that task.  It would be difficult for the Bosnia and Herzegovina authorities to conduct appeals.  Nevertheless, the Government must work closely with the United Nations regarding the police and justice systems.

He commended the role of the Russian Federation in working to ensure that the Dayton peace accords were not used to hinder the normalization process in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Balkan countries could only make progress together, and the efforts of one country could not succeed without the mobilization of the others and without the active cooperation of Belgrade.  Regarding an exit strategy, he called for proposals geared towards integration with Euro-Atlantic structures and with the European Union.

Finally, he said that in his long experience, no country had ever come so far so fast.  While Bosnia and Herzegovina was palpably passing out of the dark tunnel of a war-torn and divisive past, it could still fail.  What was needed most of all was the continued support of the Council and the commitment of the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the acceleration of reform.

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For information media. Not an official record.