With heavy armor and NATO sharpshooters standing guard, U.S. officials Saturday kicked off a much-trumpeted $25 million project to help rebuild Bosnia.
John Menzies, U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, declared the country had reached a turning point after nearly four years of war.
“We are now entering a transition from relief to reconstruction,” Menzies told local officials and aid workers in inaugurating the effort to put roofs on 2,500 war-damaged homes by next October.
But George Mitchell, the former U.S. senator now heading a private group monitoring developments in Bosnia, said continued freedom of indicted war criminals remains the greatest obstacle to peace.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, his military commander, are the most senior figures sought by the U.N. war crimes tribunal, but both remain at large - and influential - in Bosnia.
Mitchell, in Sarajevo, also urged Muslims and Bosnian Croats to rid their ranks of war criminals, saying they were a threat to the fragile Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia.
But spirits were high in Donja Dobosnica, a predominantly Muslim village about 15 miles west of Tuzla, the headquarters of U.S. forces in Bosnia. Residents welcomed the American reconstruction effort, even though it is only a drop in the bucket.
“My name is finally on the list four years after my house was nearly destroyed,” said Ljubicica Garagic, 42, one of about 50 Serbs still living among 4,000 Muslims. “I hope it will really happen. I can hardly wait to move back in.”
Alenka Savic, an engineer working on the project, said the houses with walls standing are eligible. The program will put a roof back on the house and make two rooms habitable, and install electric wiring and plumbing.
This will enable families to move back in before winter starts and continue fixing up the rest of the house on their own, Savic said.
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