TRIP REPORT 2003-1 - 9-14 FEBRUARY 2003

The early months of the year, most of the levels of government were still working out the various political coalitions that will govern for the next several years.  Given the unique circumstances involved in this post-war period and the sensitive balance that has to be created between elections results and international demands for reform, negotiations have been very difficult but no less lively than other European elections.  As the end of February approaches, political posturing has begun to wind down, and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BaH) can get on with the job of building a democratic and peaceful society.

The nationalist parties will have a substantial say in the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BaH) for the next few years.  However, they are aware that this is their only opportunity to demonstrate their democratic credentials.  In the absence of cooperation, it is most probable that future assistance will be endangered.  In this sense there are signs of some initial cooperation among the nationalist parties.  The Council of Ministers managed to negotiate the Law on Ministries on their own, the debate over the value added tax (VAT) has begun in full force and other reforms are on the agenda for the rest of the year.  Most importantly, there is a general consensus among all parties that the process of joining the European Union is the highest priority.  It is certain that the OHR plan for the immediate future to bring BaH up to a level of political and economic self sufficiency will be a continual test case for the parties in power.

In the area of returns and property law implementation the results are still mixed.  On the one hand property law implementation is well on schedule to be either completed or far enough to be handed over to local authorities by the end of 2003.  Many municipalities have reached at least a 75% implementation rate, which indicates substantial progress.  On the other hand, physical returns are not increasing comparably.  The main issue that has been stressed for over two years now is that property law implementation is not enough.  Local leaders must do their very best to ensure that there is a return-friendly environment that is conducive for rebuilding communities that were displaced by the war and would like to return.  While no one is required to return to their places of origin, there are substantial signs that displaced communities would like to return and begin anew.  They are not, however, prepared to give up the very few benefits they are currently receiving for a life of uncertainty and further material discomfort.

The problem of return is not as simple as blaming the local majority community for not providing a return-friendly environment.  In their defense it is not an easy task to reintegrate displaced populations that were at war, especially with little resources at their disposal.  The problem is compounded by higher levels of government that do not cooperate with local authorities, often leaving them without the necessary resources.  On the other hand there is much that can be done by local leaders, such meeting with returnee leaders, providing clear plans on when and how returnees will be reintegrated and distributing information to returnees on what is available to them and how to receive it.  In the case of the mayor of Banja Luka, these suggestions were rejected last December for no apparent reason, except intransigence. 

According to recent reports the mayor has made some steps but not sufficient.  The Banja Luka example is only symbolic of a pervasive attitude towards returnees in various other regions.  Local leaders need to be pro-actively encouraged to incorporate returnees in all aspects of planning.  They should also be asked to visit areas with large numbers of the displaced population to address their concerns and welcome them to return.  Such activity is not unusual in democratic society and should be demanded from leaders at all levels.  Moreover, additional funding or development projects should be made conditional on the demonstrable willingness of local leaders to go the extra mile to reach out to their former/future citizens.

In this year the Mediator will continue to emphasize the need for more efforts in non-traditional issues such as improving communication, confidence-building measures and providing return-friendly environments.  Under this theme mediation will concentrate on the urban areas such as Banja Luka, Mostar, Prijedor, Sarajevo and Tuzla and on inter-entity returns.  In addition, he will continue to lobby the international community in BaH to address some of the obstacles to reconciliation in Canton 10.  The recent resignation of the mayor of Drvar on the grounds that the canton is undermining the Serb returnees' economic possibilities should be a wake up call to the international community that pressure and resolution methods should be brought to bear on this region.  The longer the problems of Canton 10 are left to fester the more difficult it will be to untangle them when the problem finally reaches a crisis level.

During the first visit of the year by the Mediator, further efforts were made in Foca/Srbinje, where the economic situation is not improving and all stakeholders agree is endangering sustainable returns.  The Mediator also recognizes that the results have been mixed and the mayor has not made any extra efforts to reach solutions to the local problems.  However, the mayor is on his own when it comes to developing this region and dealing with local problems.  The municipality is under sanctions, the government of Republika Srpska is not very supportive and the international community is not able to give the municipality a clear indication of what reasonable steps need to be done to have the sanctions lifted.  Some in the international community have demanded the arrest of war criminals and cooperation with the ICTY, something not even the government of Republika Srpska has been willing to do.  However, one should remember that even the international community with its military might has been unable, and in some cases unwilling, to do the same.  It is somewhat unfair to demand that local civilian leadership of the municipality to provide the missing clues.

Lastly, the Mediator made further efforts at improving the communication and two way return between Srebrenica and Bratunac on one side and the Canton Sarajevo municipalities of Hadzici, Ilijas and Vogosca.  During the first meeting, the Mediator met with the representatives of Bratunac, Hadzici and Ilijas in conference style with representatives of the responsible ministries dealing with return at the state, entity and cantonal levels.  The conference was held specifically to discuss possible proposals tabled by the Federation Ministry for Refugees and DPs, and it was tentatively accepted by all sides.  During the second meeting the Mediator held an information round with the mayors and housing authorities of Bratunac, Hadzici, Ilijas, Srebrenica and Vogosca to discuss property law implementation.

Trip Report 2003-1 - 9-14 February 2003
(WORD, 48KB)