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Many-Layered Process in Bosnia

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BOSNIA has receded from the headlines in recent days as events in other parts of the world - notably the Middle East - have literally and tragically exploded.

But Bosnia remains a central challenge to international order, with profound implications for the future. If religious and ethnic conflicts can be effectively addressed there, the chances of addressing them elsewhere will be immeasurably enhanced.

The work of the Implementation Force has so far gone reasonably well. But the imposition of a cease-fire is just a beginning. What could count even more are ground-level, grass-roots efforts at reconciliation and democracy-building made possible by IFOR's presence.

The picture on the ground this week is typically dark, but mixed in are some glints of hope. Bosnian Serbs continue their dreary trek out of Sarajevo's suburbs. They are driven by their leaders' fear-mongering propaganda and by a mid-March deadline for turning over all such towns in the vicinity of the capital to Bosnia government (i.e., Muslim) control.

The Serbs exiting Sarajevo, taking even their dead with them, pour into the Serb-held sector of Bosnia, only to scrounge for shelter and perhaps displace the few Muslims remaining there. The grim process of ethnic cleansing thus goes on, even under the Dayton accord. Ironically, it's now coming down hardest on the Serbs.

Meanwhile, continued passions of war in Mostar and other southern Bosnian towns keep Croats and Muslims at odds.

How can this legacy of politically coerced group separation, rife with resentments and anger, be lifted?

It will take extraordinary patience and good will, and time - all of which are at a premium in Bosnia. A sense of urgency is unavoidable, since IFOR's term of duty is up by the end of this year, and national elections are scheduled for this September. If the latter exercise in democracy is to have any lasting meaning - and not just cement nationalistic divisions - the ground must be prepared now.

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