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Swiss committed to helping southeast Europe

Switzerland will continue to invest heavily in southeast Europe to help bring stability to the region, and pave the way for its development, the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, told a conference in Bern on Tuesday.

Deiss said a commitment to the region was in Switzerland's long-term interests. "The lasting stabilisation of south-eastern Europe is still one of the major tests facing Europe, and therefore Switzerland," he said.

He was speaking at the fifth annual government conference on co-operation with eastern Europe. This year, the event focused on the fifth anniversary of the Dayton peace accord for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Switzerland's contribution in the region.

"In no other part of the world has Switzerland invested so many resources in the 1990s in such an innovative way," Deiss told the meeting.

Between 1996 and 1999, Switzerland spent SFr580 million ($330 million) on aid to southeast Europe. The figure could exceed SFr200 million this year.

Bosnia-Herzegovina has received the largest per capita share of the aid - SFr235 million in the three years to 1999. Deiss promised to devote at least SFr50 million to technical co-operation and financial assistance over the next three years.

Other speakers at the conference also underlined the importance of helping the region get back on its feet, following the series of wars from 1991 to 1999 that followed the break-up of Yugoslavia.

"In the long-run," said Wolfgang Petritsch, the High Representative of the International Community in Bosnia, "we will only be able to live in security in western Europe if our neighbouring countries are also able to enjoy peace, social security and stability."

Petritsch told swissinfo that much progress was visible after five years, but cautioned that progress was slow: "There are still a lot of issues that need to be resolved. In particular, I believe that the state building project has not yet been finished," Petritsch said.

"We need a stronger commitment on the part of the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the state and not so much, as in the past, to the respective ethnicity," he said.

Hans Koschnick, Germany's envoy to Bosnia, said there were some encouraging signs that stability was returning to the region, but also cautioned that there is still a long way to go.

In the run-up to national elections, he said, "questions relating to job opportunities and education are more important issues than those relating to hate of one's neighbours."

The one-day conference in Bern hoped to encourage co-operation and exchanges of experience between government representatives and Swiss citizens involved in the aid effort in eastern Europe.

As part of this effort, six workshops were held on the human rights situation in Bosnia, the integration of returning refugees, the economy, culture, and Bosnia's role as a stabilising influence in the region.

swissinfo


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