West Considers Radical Bosnia Plan

Bosnia's top mediator proposes merger of Western organisations operating in the country

West Considers Radical Bosnia Plan

Bosnia's top mediator proposes merger of Western organisations operating in the country

Wednesday, 27 June, 2001

The international community is considering a radical plan to unify Western agencies in Bosnia in order to improve the efficiency of the overseas aid effort in the country.

The steering board of the Peace Implementation Council, PIC, agreed to initiate debate on the plan - proposed by Bosnia's top mediator Wolfgang Petritsch - at its meeting in Stockholm last week.

The council, which includes senior representatives of countries involved in peace implementation in Bosnia, also agreed to extend Petritsch's mandate as High Representative for another year. He is the first holder of the post to apply for such an extension.

For months, both international and local officials have been preoccupied with public and secret debates over both the extension of Petritsch's mandate and his proposal to overhaul Western organisations in Bosnia.

According to his plan, the Office of the High Representative, OHR, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, and the United Nations mission would gradually merge into a single organisation with a unified budget and structure.

If this plan is ever properly implemented, it would represent a dramatic change in international efforts in Bosnia which in the past have often been marred by poor coordination and unnecessary duplication of activities.

The Petritsch proposal would also significantly improve the cost-effectiveness of the Western aid operation. This year alone, the budgets for the OSCE, OHR and UN in Bosnia are 26.5 million euros, 25 million euros and 158.7 US dollars respectively.

The merger of the OSCE's election, human rights and democratisation duties with the UN's policing responsibilities, under the broad umbrella of OHR's peace implementation tasks, is really not a new idea. It has been discussed on and off ever since 1997.

The plan never became public for two reasons: the different agendas and interests of Western governments engaged in Bosnia; and the conflicting egos of senior international officials in the country.

The extension of Petritsch's mandate, let alone the decision to initiate a formal debate on the unification of key western agencies in Bosnia, was not easy.

Many local and international experts believe Petritsch is the best and most successful High Representative to date, although it is difficult to compare him with his predecessors, Carl Bildt of Sweden and Carlos Westendorp of Spain, as only during Petritsch's mandate was the OHR given enough authority and powers to deal effectively with hard-liners, extremists and the Mafia.

During his term, Petritsch used these powers to sack 62 Bosnian Croat, Serb and Muslim (Bosniak) officials for stalling or obstructing the peace process. He also introduced decrees to force through property legislation and the return of refugees.

Yet despite this relative success, Petritsch's troubled relationship with the US and British ambassadors Thomas Miller and Graham Hand meant that a significant part of the international community in Bosnia was against the extension of his mandate.

It's no secret that Miller, in particular, believes Petritsch is too indecisive and reluctant to take a tough line against extremists. However, others argue that his wavering is more a consequence of the often conflicting opinions of American and European diplomats.

Given the fractious nature of diplomatic relations in Sarajevo, international officials based there were unimpressed, to say the least, when Petritsch proposed the unification of western agencies, just days before the Stockholm meeting.

According to the first draft of his proposal, the OSCE and OHR would first merge into a single mission. The UN would join them later.

All three would come under the umbrella of OHR. The High Representative would be known as the High UN Representative and would serve as the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General.

Petritsch also called for better coordination between the

civilian and military components of the peace implementation operation. This, he said, would be achieved through an improvement in relations between the OHR, OSCE and UN on the one hand and NATO-led peace force, SFOR, on the other.

The PIC generally supported Petritsch's idea and instructed him to begin discussions with other international organisations on implementing the plan.

But some Western diplomats present at the Stockholm meeting said the High Representatives was told to put his own house in order - by reducing the OHR's huge bureaucracy - before the PIC gives his plan serious consideration.

Other diplomats added that PIC support for the Petritsch proposal doesn't necessarily mean that it will be introduced. They suspect that some Western agencies and diplomats, keen to push their own agendas and interets, will resist the plan in the coming weeks and months.

Amra Kebo is IWPR's Assistant Editor in Bosnia, and editor for Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje

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