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EU Official Says Balkans Court Systems Need Help - 2003-04-03

The head of the European Union-led Stability Pact for southeastern Europe says that while the region is recovering from the decade-long wars of Yugoslav succession, judicial systems in the Balkans are still weak.

Austrian politician Erhard Busek said the court systems in the Balkans need help. He endorsed the Serbian campaign against judicial corruption that since the assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic on March 12 has dismissed several judges and prosecutors. However, Mr. Busek says what kind of judges will replace them is still in question.

Gerd Ahrens, the German diplomat who for three years headed the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Albania, said corrupt judicial systems in Albania and neighboring countries deter needed foreign investment.

"We did all kinds of things in cooperation with the Council of Europe to develop good laws [in Albania]. There are good laws," he said. "But there are no good judges. There are some very unsavory characters from the old system in key positions. You have to fire judges. But according to the laws we introduced in the country, you can not fire judges!"

Mr. Busek agreed but could offer no assurance of early change. "I can only deliver a very sad message. We have to wait for the next generation," he said Wednesday during a forum at the the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. "I don't see anything else. Especially in Albania. What [former dictator] Enver Hoxha did [was very bad] and I don't need to tell it to you."

Mr. Busek, who took over leadership of the cooperation agency last year, says Balkan countries are willing to put aside ethnic and national rivalries and agree to regional cooperation because it moves them toward eventual EU membership.

The Stability Pact helped negotiate free trade agreements among all of the Balkan countries. It is creating a regional electricity grid and hopes to do the same with oil and gas. It has facilitated the return of 135,000 refugees to Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia.

Concerning Kosovo, Mr. Busek said his goal is to convince the 15 European Union countries that the Albanian-populated Serbian province is not a black hole where corruption is endemic. He ruled out changes in national boundaries as a means of settling disputes.