LEADING ARTICLE: Rebuilding Bosnia

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The Independent Online
Now that there is a real chance to end the fighting in Bosnia - General Ratko Mladic notwithstanding - the task for the international community has only just started. It is not just soldiers on the ground that are required: Bosnia needs practical help if the Dayton deal is to succeed. One aspect of this is help for Bosnia's children, which this newspaper has taken up in its Christmas appeal. But more general aid on a huge scale is necessary.

The first priority for resources from the World Bank and governments across the world will be to rebuild infrastructure. In Bosnia, 35 per cent of roads and 40 per cent of bridges have been damaged or destroyed. The railways are littered with mines. Power supplies are limited. In many towns there are not enough houses left standing for a potential workforce to live in. The World Bank estimates that $3bn to $5bn of outside aid will be needed for the initial rebuilding programme.

The more intractable economic problems involve people rather than bricks and mortar. About two million people in Bosnia have left their homes. Large areas of agricultural land in northern and eastern Bosnia remain barren because the Muslim farming families who lived there fled from advancing Bosnian Serbs. Persuading them to return to a region run by their former enemy will not be easy.

Even more serious for rebuilding Bosnia is the brain drain. Before the war, Bosnia had one of the best-educated workforces in Eastern Europe. But many of the middle classes who used to work in Bosnian cities have used their skills and qualifications to find jobs elsewhere.

Those that remain face serious social and psychological problems. This is where private charities could come into their own. Restoring the country's social fabric - schools, hospitals, protection for children and the elderly, counselling for the victims of war - is not a priority for government aid. Organisations such as those funded by the Independent's appeal will be as essential in the first years of peace as they were during the war.

Government and aid agencies will have to operate with care if they are to avoid exacerbating old tensions. Resettling refugees will prove particularly sensitive. Yet international aid, if handled well, could provide the glue that holds the peace settlement together. Even the hardpressed Bosnian Serbs, who are unlikely to get much help from Serbia, may be open to reconciliation if it comes with the offer of financial help.