Rifkind warns on reconstruction

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Bosnia must not be forgotten because the fighting appears to be over, the Foreign Secretary said yesterday.

Speaking during a visit to Sarajevo, Malcolm Rifkind said the reconstruction of the country must keep pace with the political and military success of the cease-fire if peace was to hold. It was a clear message of support for Carl Bildt, the "High Representative" whose ill-defined role in coordinating the work of the UN, EU and Non-Governmental Organisations contrasts with the clearly defined mission and centralised structure of the military Implementation Force - I-For.

Even while Mr Rifkind was stressing the need for a clear "peace dividend", European Union sources in Brussels warned that reconstruction could founder because of the non-appearance of $550m (pounds 352m) pledged at a conference in December. The sum had been pledged for the first three months of this year - $150m from the World Bank, $100m from the European Commission and the rest from EU member states. To date, only $62.5m has been received, from the Commission. The money is needed for vital repairs to hospitals, schools, telecommunications, electricity gas and water supplies.

Asked about the exodus of Serb civilians from the Sarajevo suburbs, Mr Rifkind said he hoped the agreement on policing, which appeared to be holding, would help reassure the Serbs, although there was little sign of it yesterday as more Serbs prepared to move out and even to take their dead with them. Staff working for Mr Bildt said yesterday that about 20,000 Serbs had fled from the suburbs in the last three months and another 40,000 could leave as the areas are handed over to Bosnian government control. It is believed that General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military commander, has encouraged the exodus and the Serbs have interfered with attempts to broadcast reassurances.

Mr Rifkind had a meeting with the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, Premier Hasan Muratovic and the Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic before lunch with Mr Bildt. In the afternoon he met Lieutenant General Sir Mike Walker, who commands the Nato land component of I-For. Mr Rifkind later left for talks with Greek ministers in Athens. Today he is due in Tirana to meet Albanian government leaders.

Mr Prlic said he thought the United Kingdom would support Bosnia-Herzegovina in its bid to become an associate member of the EU and the Nato Partnership for Peace scheme, which embraces most European countries. But diplomatic sources yesterday said that was still some way off, and would certainly not happen while I-For remained in place.

The EU regards all the countries of the former Yugoslavia as a group, to be considered together for EU associate membership, whereas the countries themselves would like to be treated separately.