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Geneva marks ten years of peace in Bosnia

The Old Bridge in Mostar, Bosnia, has been reconstructed as a symbol of reconciliation

(Keystone)

The future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is being discussed at a two-day international conference in Geneva, under the banner "Ten Years of Dayton and Beyond".

In 1995 the Dayton peace agreement signalled the end of a four-year conflict in Bosnia in which an estimated 100,000 people died and two million became refugees.

The peace process began in Geneva on September 8, 1995, under the guidance of the Swedish mediator and former High Representative in Bosnia, Carl Bildt.

The peace treaty was subsequently negotiated in Dayton, Ohio, in November and signed in Paris on December 14.

The "Ten Years of Dayton and Beyond" conference has been organised by the Association Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was co-founded by the Austrian UN ambassador and also former High Representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch.

Petritsch has said the future success of Bosnia depends on political stability, the return of refugees, foreign investment and entry to the European Council.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who addressed the conference on Thursday, said Bosnia had now arrived at a "real turning point in its history".

She said the country still faced major challenges, including strengthening the central institutions of the state, fighting organised crime, tackling high unemployment, and addressing ethnic discord.

"There are still important reforms to be implemented in order to overcome today's remaining divisions and to free the country from its present dysfunctionalities," she said.

"This will require significant efforts, however, and urgently so if Bosnia-Herzegovina is not to be left behind by its neighbours and the rest of Europe."

Calmy-Rey added that the failure to bring suspected war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to justice prevented the country from dealing adequately with its past.

Challenges

The Swiss foreign minister also highlighted Switzerland's long-standing commitment to Bosnia, which has benefited from almost SFr400 million ($309 million) in aid since 1996.

"Our vision for Bosnia-Herzegovina is that of a country as part of a peaceful, democratic and prosperous region, fully integrated in Europe, which is where - without doubt - it belongs," she said.

In Geneva the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) will put forward its "Platform Bosnia-Herzegovina", aimed at speeding up dialogue on constitutional questions and sparking discussions on future perspectives.

The SDC has contributed SFr150,000, a third of the conference's costs.

Vreni Müller-Hemmi, Swiss parliamentarian and member of the Association Bosnia and Herzegovina senior advisory board, said the support of the international community was crucial for the transition to a democratic state and entry into the European Union."

She played down fears that recent pressure from Bosnian Croats for their own republic would derail progress towards a unified state.

"There are a lot of people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, from all parts of the country, who are willing to build a unified state," she told swissinfo. "That's the aim of the association, the international community and Switzerland."

Police progress

In a separate development, European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn met Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzić on Wednesday following the approval, by the upper house of the Bosnian central parliament, of legislation on police reform.

"I welcome the recent progress on police reform," said Rehn. "This will allow me to recommend to the Commission and the Council opening negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina."

This agreement is seen as a stepping-stone towards EU membership.

Rehn called for sufficient "follow-up" on the police agreement, which will see a multi-ethnic police force replacing the separate services that followed in the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation after the end of the war.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Bosnia-Herzegovina has a population of around 4 million.
40 per cent are unemployed and nearly 20 per cent live below the poverty level.

end of infobox

In brief

Since 1992 Bosnia-Herzegovina has been an independent country, member of the UN and other international organisations.

Since the Dayton Accords in 1995, Bosnia has been administered in a supervisory role by a High Representative selected by the UN Security Council.

It is decentralised and administratively divided into two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

The country is a Swiss foreign policy priority, due to its post-war problems.

On October 20-21 a Swiss-supported international conference on Bosnia's future is taking place in Geneva.

end of infobox


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