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UN Plan to Rebuild Sarajevo Runs Into Endless Obstacles and Turf Battles

As fighting continues, ambitious initiative is put on hold

MEHMET DRINO, the safari-suit-clad chairman of the Hidrogradnja company, gestures to a miniature mock-up of a mammoth hydroelectric dam.

``We were the lead company in building the Hadita Dam in Iraq. It was a $1 billion project,'' he argues. ``A lot of foreigners believe that the level of knowledge and skill among our people is rather low. We claim the contrary.''

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``We are a country with high expertise,'' he avers, noting that state-controlled Bosnian engineering and construction firms like Hidrogradnja have years of experience overseeing major road, power, and oil projects across the Middle East and Africa.

That point is central to the Muslim-led Bosnian government's argument in a dispute over control of a multimillion-dollar, UN-drafted master plan for rebuilding Sarajevo's shell-blasted infrastructure.

The Muslim government claims that with its pool of personnel and know-how, it should have primacy in rebuilding the capital and refuses to relinquish control of funds and projects.

But foreign governments and public and private aid agencies disagree.

Western diplomats and UN officials warn that the entire initiative could grind to a halt unless the government relents.

``They would like to be totally in charge. But, they are not going to get money from the rest of the world,'' says a Western diplomat.

The fledgling effort faces numerous obstacles and a deteriorating situation on the ground. Random sniping and mortar attacks on Sarajevo continued over the weekend despite increasing pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept the contact group peace plan.

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Serbia, the Bosnian Serbs' main arms and fuel supplier, has reportedly cut off all aid to Bosnia and NATO warplanes bombed Bosnian Serb forces Friday after they seized five heavy weapons under UN control. Infighting Slows Sarajevo's Rebuilding

THE UN reports no letup in fighting in central Bosnia, where the Serbs have recently lost some ground to the Muslim-led Bosnian Army.

In the dispute over rebuilding the capital, former US Ambassador William Eagleton finds himself caught in the middle. As special UN reconstruction coordinator, Mr. Eagleton drew up the plan for $539 million in projects to restore utility, transport, health, and education systems.

He will now monitor its implementation to prevent the haphazard and often redundant efforts foreign governments and aid agencies have been pursuing.

To reconcile the two sides, Eagleton has formed a committee made up of Bosnian government officials and foreign-aid donors to help his office coordinate the initiative.

Foreign governments have so far pledged $75 million, mostly in funds or materials destined for specific UN or private aid agency projects, not for the government.

``We are not happy with this,'' says Hasan Maratovic, a minister without portfolio and the chief government liaison with international organizations. ``There are some qualified agencies. But there are others here only for their own business.''

The government wants the new Directorate for Development and Reconstruction (DDR), a body of politicians, bureaucrats and state enterprise managers, to handle every aspect of the UN plan, from dispersing foreign aid to approving project designs, awarding contracts, and supervising construction.

``We need assistance, but of a limited scope,'' contends Mr. Drino, who has been named chief of the DDR.

Foreign governments and aid agencies dispute that. Self-interest is undoubtedly part of the reason, especially among Western governments seeking business for their own private consulting firms and equipment manufacturers.

France, for instance, has offered funds to rebuild the National Museum's roof, but part of the money must be used to underwrite a month-long study by French consultants.

``We don't need such experts for a roof,'' retorts Drino.

Many foreign-aid efforts undertaken so far have also been marked by duplication, waste, red tape, and unfulfilled promises.

When the European Union Task Force, an EU engineering assistance group, failed to deliver spare parts pledged for Sarajevo's main water-pumping station, a French UN officer paid out of his own pocket for the wrenches needed to maintain the pumps.

The government argues that it is best suited to determine how to use foreign aid. Mr. Maratovic, who is a member of the DDR, says the United States is considering donating $6 million to the restoration of Sarajevo's natural-gas distribution system.

``But, we don't need it all. We need maybe $1 million,'' he explains. ``The gas system was repaired by Holland during the war. They spent $15 million and have proposed another $5 million.''

Aid officials say safeguards against waste and Soviet-style central planning are crucial in Bosnia where 28 months of war have fueled the inefficiency and corruption that permeates the still-unreformed, communist-style government.

``You cannot demand that kind of accountability from the Bosnian government,'' says a Western diplomat. ``Cash is cash. Once it passes through someone else's account, it's gone.''

Some UN officials and Western diplomats fear that the DDR was set up to siphon off foreign aid or steer contracts to Bosnian firms favored by the ruling Muslim Party for Democratic Change.

``We certainly assume that where influence [can] be brought to bear, it will be,'' says a Western diplomat. ``Go to New York City. It's a condition of life.''

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