Bosnia must catch up to join Europe: Clinton
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Bosnia Tuesday it must catch up its neighbors and integrate with Europe, saying it was time for the country to unite to deliver the promise of 1995 peace accords.
In a meeting with Sarajevo university students, Clinton praised the progress made so far but said much more needed to be done to cement Bosnia's European future.
"Hatreds have eased, but nationalism persists. Meanwhile, the promise of greater stability and opportunity, represented by integration into Europe, remains out of reach," Clinton said, urging the country to set aside ethnic differences and meet requirements for joining the European Union and NATO.
"Your neighbors have taken strides in that direction. They know that there is no better way to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term political stability than by integrating with Europe," Clinton said. "Now is the time for the citizens of this country to make your voices heard."
Clinton's trip, also taking her to Serbia and Kosovo, comes a week after Bosnian polls that appeared likely to prolong deadlock between its Muslim, Croat and Serb populations.
U.S. officials say they hope the visit to Bosnia, which then President Bill Clinton helped shepherd to independence after Yugoslavia's collapse, will boost efforts to strengthen the central government and launch political and economic reforms.
"The Clinton family is ready to get engaged personally to help Bosnia-Herzegovina because Bill Clinton wants to see his project successfully completed," Bakir Izetbegovic, newly elected as the Muslim member of Bosnia's joint presidency, said in describing his conversation with Clinton.
In Sarajevo, Clinton spoke to young people who barely remember the 1992-95 war in which about 100,000 people were killed, and she urged them to look to the future.
"I urged them as I urge every citizen to reject false promises of self-serving nationalist agendas," Clinton told a gathering of Bosnian Serb, Muslim and Croat leaders after opening a new building of the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo.
"Nobody will create a stable and prosperous future of this country by stoking animosities of the past. Those will lead only to more distrust, disunion, stagnation and poverty," she said.
Fifteen years after the war's end, Bosnia lags Western Balkan nations hoping to join the EU and eventually NATO -- goals which Brussels and Washington say are key to regional stability. U.S. officials want Bosnia to speed constitutional and economic reforms necessary for eventual EU membership.
(Editing by Adam Tanner and Mark Trevelyan)