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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 08:25 GMT
Ghosts of Bosnia's war live on
Refugee children
Thousands of refugees have still not returned
By South-East Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

The Dayton agreement - which ended three-and-a half-years of fighting in Bosnia - was more than just a peace treaty.

Its purpose was to reintegrate a country that had been split into Serb, Croat and Muslim-dominated parts; to reverse the results of ethnic cleansing; and to reconstruct an economy that had been largely destroyed by war.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic
Radovan Karadzic remains at large
Five years on, the results remain patchy.

On the positive side, Bosnia has remained at peace - thanks to the presence of a NATO-led multi-national peacekeeing force, known as SFOR.

The size of the peacekeeping contingent has been reduced from 60,000 at the start to 20,000 now.

But no-one is suggesting an early departure date because the general assumption is that it could lead to renewed hostilities.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the peace process so far is the slow return of the estimated one million refugees

Because of the peacekeepers' presence, there is also freedom of movement across Bosnia - and that includes the boundary between the country's two entities, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic.

Meanwhile the international community's High Representative to Bosnia - a Sarajevo-based official with extensive executive powers - has introduced a common currency, passports and car number plates - often in the face of opposition from local politicians.

War crimes

Indeed, the generally successful performance of nationalists in the latest elections has confirmed just how strong this resistance to the process of reintegration remains - particularly among Serbs and Croats.

The latest general elections - the third of their kind since Dayton - have confirmed the Serbian Democratic Party, founded by the indicted war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic, as the strongest in the Bosnian Serb republic.

Older refugees
Many of the refugees are enduring hardship
Likewise, the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union has once again come out on top among Croats in Bosnia.

Also on the negative side - from the perspective of those trying to implement the Dayton accords - several prominent war crimes suspects are still at liberty, Mr Karadzic among them. SFOR wants to avoid the bloodshed their arrest might provoke.

But perhaps the biggest failure of the peace process so far is the slow return of the estimated one million refugees, whose pre-war homes are in areas controlled by another ethnic group.

Slobodan Milosevic
Milosevic was widely blamed for starting the war
That is because of continuing obstructionism by hardline nationalists who control many local authorities.

Five years on, only about one in 10 of these refugees - 120,000 altogether - have managed to go back to their homes.

Meanwhile, a much bigger number, around a million refugees, have returned to Bosnia from other countries - but predominantly to areas where their own ethnic group is in the majority.

Changes at the top

This time last year the three politicians from the region who signed the Dayton accords were still in power.

Since then, President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia, an advocate of Bosnia's partitioning, has died, while President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugosalavia, who is widely regarded as having inititiated the war, has been removed from his post after electoral defeat.

Shattered homes
Much rebuilding - of homes and of trust - remains to be done
And Bosnia's Muslim President, Alija Izetbegovic, has stepped down, though he continues to lead his much-weakened party.

International officials involved in the Bosnian peace process are hoping that with these nationalist leaders no longer on the political stage, Bosnia may in future make greater progress on the path to reintegration.

But the results of the latest elections show that any expectation of a major breakthrough in the short term would be misplaced.

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See also:

15 Nov 00 | Europe
Bosnia: The legacy of war
14 Oct 00 | Europe
Bosnia war: Main players
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