Bildt accuses US of undermining Bosnia reconstruction

SARAH HELM

Brussels

Transatlantic tensions over peace-making in Bosnia erupted yesterday when Carl Bildt, the man in charge of implementing the civilian side of the peace deal, attacked the US for deliberately undermining the reconstruction effort.

Speaking in graphic terms, Mr Bildt, the former European peace co-ordinator, took the stage at a Brussels press conference to describe how his reconstruction team had been barred, on US orders, from all former United Nations facilities in Zagreb and Sarajevo. As a result, he said, they had been forced to grovel for shelter and telephone lines as they attempted to establish a presence in the former Yugoslavia.

"We have had to negotiate for every single telephone line and single metre of office space," he said, describing the situation in Sarajevo as more divided than Berlin during the Cold War. Mr Bildt told how he personally had withdrawn 300,000 German marks from an EU account last week and carried the notes out to Bosnia in a suitcase.

Mr Bildt was hitting back at stinging criticism from Washington that he and fellow Europeans have dithered in setting up the rebuilding side of the peace operation. Washington has proudly acclaimed the success so far of I-For, the military Implementation Force, which is US-led and involves the deployment of 60,000 Nato troops. But American officials have let it be known that they believe the Europeans have been slack and indecisive in fulfilling their role.

Mr Bildt, appointed as High Representative for reconstruction in December, has been singled out for failing to set up his office in Sarajevo. Yesterday Mr Bildt pointed out that he could not have set up his operation faster without ready facilities and money.

The UN has largely withdrawn from Sarajevo and Zagreb. However, Mr Bildt said bitterly yesterday, the US has taken over the many fully equipped UN facilities for the military operation, while barring the European reconstruction team.

Mr Bildt aims to have a team of about 50 in Sarajevo and 30 in Brussels, but arrangements have been further hampered by an extreme shortage of money. European funds for reconstruction - now totalling 12.1bn ecus (pounds 10.1bn) - have been slow in flowing and no money has yet come from the US or elsewhere outside Europe. "Everything that has been done on reconstruction so far has been done by the Europeans," he said.

Behind the row lies a history of acrimony between the Europeans and the US over the credit for peace in former Yugoslavia. Since the start of the US-led peace initiative, the Europeans have voiced caution about Washington's optimism. Mr Bildt warned that, whatever the military achievements, reconciliation between the parties was still a long way off.

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