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Schröder Wants Closer EU Ties With Bosnia

German Chancellor Schröder said he supported Bosnia's aspirations to come closer to the EU during a visit to Sarajevo Tuesday for talks on the Balkan country's postwar reforms.

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Schröder talks to Srebrenica widows during his Bosnia visit

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was optimistic Tuesday after talks with top officials, including Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown as well as British general David Leakey, commander of the 7,000-strong EU peacekeeping force in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.

Gerhard Schröder in Bosnien

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder speaks to journalists during a press conference in Sarajevo.

Schröder said Bosnia Herzegovina had made visible progress in implementing domestic reform, including cooperation with the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The chancellor said he was in favor of speedily establishing closer ties between the European Union and Sarajevo and negotiations with Brussels about a stability pact.

Schröder also offered the Bosnian leadership German expertise in framing a new constitution and aiding economic reform. Bosnian Prime Minister Terzic said Schröder's visit had sent a "clear signal" about the place of his country in the EU fold.

The German chancellor also met with Srebrenica widows who lost their loved ones during the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Careful progress

Earlier, diplomats talked about the painstaking progress that the Balkan country has made in the years since the war.

Almost ten years after the war, Bosnia Herzegovina is still a torn country, with some 300,000 refugees who don't want to return to their home villages for fear of their former neighbors. War-ravaged houses dot the landscape, and buildings in Sarajevo are testimony to the years of fighting which pounded the city.

But there has been progress since the ceasefire in the mid-90s. After significant resistance, the Serb government in Banja Luka is now working with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Muslims and Croats, in Sarajevo.

There is still much scepticism between the former warring factions, and the German diplomat, Werner Wnendt, said it took much international pressure to get the Republica Srpska to sign up to co-operating with its former enemies.

"Many people still have their old dreams of independence or of becoming affiliated to Serbia, but there are also realistic politicians who recognise that the only option is to work within the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Wnendt said.

Shifting power

Paddy Ashdown - britischer Politiker. Hoher Repräsentant für Bosnien-Herzegowina

International High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Paddy Ashdown

Wnendt is deputy to Paddy Ashdown (photo), the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is currently more powerful than any Bosnian politician. That said, the international community is keen to gradually transfer power to local authorities. There is already a centralized defense ministry and secret service, and there are plans to create a single army and police force.

Such co-operation is a pre-condition to any notion of talks on Bosnia and Herzegovina joining the European Union. It created a stability and association agreement, which could smooth the way for accession talks at some point in the future. But as things stand, Wnendt says Bosnia is making life more difficult for itself than needs be.

"The structure in Bosnia and Herzegovina is very complicated and uneconomical because there are far too many ministers. The need for reforms becomes more and more evident," he added.

Need for greater foreign investment

However, a number of foreign companies have already invested in the country. A VW plant, once home to the manufacture of the company's Golf models, now employs more than 300 people for the production of replacement parts for older VW models.

Although there are other signs of foreign finance in Bosnia and Herzegovina, such as a Slovenian supermarket chain and a Croatian bank, overseas investment only adds up to a few hundred million annually. Compared to other Balkan states it is very little, something which is reflected in the 40 percent unemployment rate.

War criminals still on the run

During the Balkan war, Bosnia was the place where the war raged for the longest, and there are still some 7,000 foreign soldiers stationed there in the name of peace and stability. But a decade after the massacre at Srebrenica, during which some 7,000 Muslim men are believed to have been killed, the international troops have still not managed to arrest those responsible.

Radovan Karadzic

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic

The former leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic (photo) and his commander, Ratko Mladic, are still on the run, and it is widely believed that Karadzic is in Republica Srpska. Until such time as he is arrested, Bosnia's entry into the EU is unimaginable. Outside the ranks of the union, there would be little prospect of further foreign investment, which would in turn pain a bleak future for a county with an already dark past.

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