by Dr. Javier Solana, Secretary General of NATO
I will be brief because I have the pleasure of seeing most of you quite often and you know my views.
I saw several of you last week in Bosnia, which I visit almost every month. Each time I go I am impressed by how much progress is being made, but I am also struck by how much has yet to be done. Therefore, my message today is that we must - all of us - make better use of the time remaining. This message is directed primarily at the leaders of Bosnia- Herzegovina. Mr Presidents and Prime Ministers: Allies and Partners who are providing the troops that make up SFOR will not be able to keep their men and women in Bosnia Herzegovina indefinitely.
We realise that it is difficult to reconcile and rebuild a society torn apart by war. But the Parties must take advantage of the generosity of the international community, including NATO. As difficult as it is now, it will be even more difficult once we have left. It would be a tragedy indeed if the vast majority of Europe is looking forward --integrating, cooperating, becoming ever more prosperous -- while a small part of the Balkans remains excluded, looking backwards, bickering over petty political issues.
In the New Year NATO, working with the rest of the International Community, will continue to provide the secure environment necessary to implement the Peace Accord, establish working common institutions, reform police, and return displaced persons to their homes.
The Multinational Specialised Unit, which we created last May, will enhance SFOR's ability to react quickly to support IPTF and local police in strengthening public security. Also, NATO will offer Bosnia an enhanced Security Cooperation Program to help bring its armed forces up to democratic standards and to lay the foundation for longer-term cooperation with NATO. Bosnia can demonstrate its professed commitment to building stronger ties to NATO through this programme.
SFOR will continue to carry out its mandate fully and firmly. The recent arrest by SFOR of a prominent indicted war criminal should serve as a reminder of this. SFOR will continue to provide robust and broad support to the HR and civilian organisations in the pursuit of their work. We will continue to respond to requests from the HR, UNIPTF, ICTY and others to help them overcome obstacles to their work.
NATO Ministers decided last week that, at present, troop levels and mission should not be significantly changed. There will, however, be small reductions in size that will not affect capabilities. Later this week, I expect NATO Defence Ministers to evaluate the situation and to commission a study of options for possible longer- term and more substantial adjustments in the future size and structure of SFOR.
I urge the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina to take advantage of SFOR's presence to make 1999 a year of substantial and sustained progress. There are three areas in particular where immediate action is needed: return of refugees, public security, and the building of common institutions.
For returns: The High Representative would like to see tens of thousands of people returning home next year. As I told members of Bosnia's Presidency last Thursday, NATO together with the international community will provide the secure environment, technical advice and expertise you need to achieve this goal. All that is needed is the political will on your part. If the goal is not achieved we will know why - an absence of political will.
For public security: 1999 should be the year for completing the transformation of the local police into a force that will protect the rights of all citizens, from all ethnic backgrounds. I congratulate Elizabeth Rehn and the IPTF for the agreement reached last week. I am encouraged by the commitment undertaken by the authorities of the Republika Srbska to include 200 non-Serbs into their police force. This must be implemented fully and repeated throughout the country.
For institutions: 1999 should also be the year for institutions at all levels to be working on behalf of the people, rather than in pursuit of nationalistic policies. In particular, we want to see the Standing Committee on Military Matters taking concrete steps to reform Bosnia's armed forces and cooperate actively to meet common objectives.
The cooperation between SFOR and the international organisations in Bosnia Herzegovina has been splendid. But it can be even better. In order to use more effectively the limited time we have, we must exchange more information more rapidly. In this respect, I invite the international organisations present, under the leadership of the High Representative, to work closely with COMSFOR General Meigs, his commanders and troops. Let SFOR know when you encounter difficulties or are threatened. You can count on SFOR's support and assistance to the full extent of our mandate and capabilities.
Let me also use this opportunity to thank the High Representative for his leadership and for his constructive use of the authority given to him by the Bonn PIC meeting. Again, you can depend on SFOR's full backing for your actions pursuant to this authority.
Last week the Alliance underscored its readiness to work constructively with all Parties that support the Peace Agreement and seek to implement it. The Alliance also remains ready to take action against those who obstruct Dayton. We will not tolerate any threats to the security of SFOR personnel or those of international organisations.
Let me close by commending the men and women of SFOR for their outstanding service in the cause of peace under often-difficult conditions. Many will be spending another Christmas away from families and loved ones. I propose that we all do our utmost in the New Year to create the conditions under which such hardship and sacrifice will no longer be necessary and under which Bosnia will be able to enjoy the self-sustained peace and security we are all striving together to establish.