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Bosnia needs long-term help: Letter

Sir: Surely most commentators accept that neither the widespread return of refugees to Bosnia nor significant economic regeneration in the country was a likelihood within one year of the peace deal signed in Dayton last November? While the international community may have subscribed to the rhetoric that a year was long enough to re-integrate the two entities of Bosnia, few people on the ground ever believed this to be realistic ("Refugees can never go home, says UN", 17 July; letter, 19 July).

Oxfam has worked in Bosnia since 1993 and witnesses daily the misery that stems from "ethnic cleansing". This, and our experience of over 50 years work throughout the world, has convinced us that an ethnically plural Bosnia remains the only genuine long-term solution for the region. For where have modern nation states defined by ethnic identity been viable? They tend to rely on forced mass migration, murder, or, at worst, genocide for their establishment, and the domination of remaining minorities to maintain them.

For the international community to recognise that it must engage with Bosnia for longer than one year is a step forward. However, losing sight of the vision of a single Bosnia must signify several steps back. The 1.8m people who have been displaced during the last four years have a right to return to their homes should they so wish. The challenge is how to create the conditions of physical and economic security which will allow people a genuine opportunity to exercise this right.

To date, international policy has been conducted with an eye on the US electoral timetable, or underpinned by the desire to shunt refugees from countries of asylum back to Bosnia. Until the international community starts behaving as if it has a long-term commitment to a single pluralistic Bosnia, "ethnic cleansing" will be endorsed and the people of Bosnia remain short-changed.



Oxfam UK & Ireland