NATO chief urges Balkan states to tackle crime, corruption France_Presse - 2003/9/5
NATO chief George Robertson Friday urged the alliance's partners in the Balkans to work more to crack down on corruption and organized crime, but also urged the West to reaffirm its commitment to the area.
"Southeast Europe is coming back into the European mainstream," he said. "A return to the dark ages of conflict is evermore implausible."
Robertson was in Bulgaria, after Hungary, as part of a "goodbye" tour through capitals of some of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's partners and members-in-waiting before he steps down in December after completing a four-year mandate.
"We have come a long way. The countries of southeast Europe have made considerable progress these last few years in getting their houses in order, implementing difficult but necessary reforms and moving closer to Euro-Atlantic structures," he told the opening of a two-day conference on security in the region.
"In a nutshell," he said, "southeast Europe needs politicians who look to the future, not to the past."
After the bitter wars that tore the Balkans apart in the 1990s following the collapse of communism, the region was no longer what Robertson called an exporter of instability.
But "the countries of southeast Europe must continue to look to the future. They must continue to build democracy, to root out crime and corruption and to establish the rule of law. They must comply with their international obligation and they must cooperate with their neighbors," he told the audience.
The meeting was attended by defense ministers from Albania, Croatia, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia-Montenegro as well as from NATO member Turkey.
Bulgaria and Romania are among the seven ex-communist states scheduled to join the 19-member Atlantic Alliance next May at ceremonies in Istanbul.
Robertson also said "the major international organizations need to reaffirm their commitment to the long-term future of the countries of southeast Europe."
The NATO chief encouraged Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to undertake radical reforms to pave their way for membership in the Atlantic Alliance.
As for Bosnia-Hercegovina, Montenegro and Serbia, he said there was "little doubt in my mind that they will eventually join the partnership for peace" -- NATO's program to anchor former Eastern bloc states into western structures -- "once they have taken the critical steps that the allies have outlined."