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World Bank: Western Balkans Appears on Road to Stability - 2003-02-14

The outgoing chief of the World Bank's western Balkans section says the volatile region where the bank has lent over $2 billion in the past decade appears to have turned a corner towards stability.

Christiaan Poortman says the western Balkans neighborhood is getting safer. He is cautiously optimistic that the ethnic strife that accompanied the collapse of the former Yugoslavia over the past decade is over.

In a meeting with reporters Thursday, Mr. Poortman said the bank and the European Union have registered successes in promoting regional economic cooperation and links to Western Europe. The countries for which he has responsibility are Bosnia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia and Serbia, and Montenegro.

Mr. Poortman says market based reform has for two years been very successful in post-Milosevic Serbia, a country he calls the region's hole in the middle because of its geographic location. He is also upbeat about Macedonia where a reformist government committed to ethnic reconciliation came to power last October.

"Very importantly, this is a government that has put the war against corruption very high on its agenda," he said. "And all this, to me, means this is a government that is serious in terms of its economic development program and how it wants to tackle this."

Kosovo, the mostly ethnic Albanian populated southern Serbian province, says Mr. Poortman, is the most unsettled territory in the region.

"Whatever your political thinking may be about Kosovo and its final status, the fact that there is something of that importance that still needs to determined introduces uncertainty," he said. "And that uncertainty makes it difficult to plan and to make plans for the future and it does, I think, discourage investment, one way or another.

The biggest beneficiaries of World Bank assistance in the region have been Bosnia with $730 million, Albania with $660 million and Macedonia with $469 million. The challenge now, says Mr. Poortman, is to bring in private investment, develop the rule of law, overcome corruption and diminish dependence on aid.