World Leaders Pledge Balkan Reforms
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ President Clinton and the leaders of some 40 nations pledged today to push economic and democratic reforms for the war-torn 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 issued a written statement stressing that NATO’s victory in Kosovo will be hollow if there is not a concerted international effort to bolster Balkan nations economically.
``We cannot say our job is finished when refugees are returning to shattered lives,″ Clinton said. ``The transformation and integration of this region cannot be achieved piecemeal, one province, one country, one crisis at a time. ... The pace will certainly vary but we have to move forward together.″
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.
The leaders endorsed 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, Clinton said, hoping the conference would further isolate Milosevic and show the Serb people that their best hopes lie in getting new leadership.
``We regret that we were not able to invite the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to be present today,″ a closing statement from Clinton and the other leaders said. The leaders appealed to Serb-led Yugolsavia ``to embrace democratic change and work actively for regional reconciliation.″
The leaders also offered incentives to Montenegro, Serbia’s western-leaning junior partner in the Yugoslav federation. The summit participants ``will consider ways of making the republic of Montenegro an early beneficiary of the pact and reaffirm their support of all democratic forces.″
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.
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.
``What is needed now is that we show in practice the solidarity that all who have been participating here have shown,″ Ahtisaari said after the sessions ended.
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.″
``We will be the first to welcome this great country within a modern Europe and the international community,″ once a democratic regime is installed in Yugoslavia, French President Jacques Chirac said.
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.
Despite the intense security, a gunshot rang out as Croatia’s president, Franjo Tudjman, was entering the city. A NATO spokesman, Lt. Commander David Scanlon, said the round was apparently fired accidentally by a peacekeeper’s weapon.
Scanlon said the firing was under investigation and may have been caused by mechanical failure. No one was injured.