Bosnia must reform or risk isolation

SARAJEVO, Dec 31, 1999 -- (Reuters) The West's top envoy to Bosnia warned on Thursday the Balkan state was trying donors' patience with its reluctance to reform and move on from the 1992-1995 war and running the risk of international isolation.

In a New Year's letter to the people of Bosnia, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch said the country could no longer afford to "muddle along as it had so far".

Western governments and donors, who supported the country's post-war recovery with $5.1 billion in 1996-1999, were getting impatient to see progress and had grown tired with a political leadership that seemed unwilling to reform, he said.

"Things must change if Bosnia and Herzegovina does not want to become Europe's abandoned backyard," Petritsch wrote.

He urged Bosnians to take responsibility for their country's fate and use their vote in polls next year to elect leaders who put the national well-being above party goals, nationalist agendas and self-interest.

"I appeal to both politicians and citizens to take the growing disgruntlement in the West seriously and to change course," Petritsch said, adding next year would be crucial.

It was not enough to repeat the worn-out cliche that "much has been achieved" since the signing of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the Bosnia war.

"This is no longer the case. What we need now is a radical change," said the Austrian diplomat, who has sweeping powers to remove officials seen as obstructing the peace process and can impose laws if parliament fails to do.

"Let us prove to the outside world that Bosnia is not a hopeless case, that its politicians are not only pursuing their own interests, and that its citizens have not given up and resigned themselves to their fate," Petritsch said.

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