EU stalls on funds for reconstruction

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European foreign ministers yesterday delayed a money-raising conference for Bosnian reconstruction, amid growing confusion about how to implement the political and civilian side of the Dayton peace deal.

The European Commission had proposed to host a pledging conference in Brussels on 20 December. The conference was to have followed the London conference this weekend when further peace implementation planning is to take place. A ceremony to sign the Dayton deal is scheduled for Paris next week.

However, in the first sign of a slow-down in momentum since the Dayton agreement was signed, EU foreign ministers said it was "too early" for a money-raising meeting.

Reconstruction and aid needs have not yet been properly identified, and there is no certainty the warring sides in Bosnia will agree to the detailed terms set out in the Dayton deal.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, said in Brussels yesterday that if such a meeting were held before Christmas it would be a matter of "plucking figures out of the air."

It was crucial that the Bosnian parties were fully aware there would be no reconstruction effort unless the Dayton terms were fully adhered to, he said. "We must not send signals which confuse, but rather, which illuminate."

Discussions have already started over how the cost of the operation should be shared. The assumption is that the US would pay for one-third with the EU paying another third, and the rest being shared by other states. However, estimates of reconstruction costs range from $3bn (pounds 2bn) to $6bn, Mr Rifkind said yesterday, and far planning was still needed. Hehoped the pledging conference could be held in the New Year.

Britain hopes the London conference this weekend will put in place building blocks for the civilian peace-making effort, beginning with the appointment of a civilian overlord. The official is expected to be Carl Bildt, the EU representative to former Yugoslavia.

Whoever takes on this task will face an enormous challenge, as some requirements of the Dayton accord, such as "return of refugees", are unlikely to be achieved. The holding of elections within nine months of the agreement's implementation also appears ambitious.