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Real help for the Balkans

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The world's most expensive photo of 40 some world leaders."

That's the way one senior US official describes the summit held in Sarajevo this summer where Western leaders announced their latest plan to bring peace to the Balkans. Since the end of the Kosovo conflict, the mood in the region vacillates between fresh hope and cynical jokes about how grand rhetoric will dissolve into empty promises and more turmoil in southeastern Europe.

Is there a clear solution to Balkan instability? Certainly not. The Stability Pact unveiled this summer, with its promise of aid, trade, and investment, is a serious and noble gesture, to be sure. Working groups are now busy trying to coordinate the effort. But this, like all other efforts, is sure to fall short of the mark if Western leaders don't listen more carefully to what people of the region themselves have to say about their problems and future.

The first thing one hears is that nothing can be accomplished on the cheap. And atop the list are the removal of dictator Slobodan Milosevic and the democratization of Serbia. The region is searching for ways to assist the weak and fragmented Serb opposition.

Even in the presidential castle in faraway Prague, Czech leader Vaclav Havel has designated one of his assistants to organize a project aimed at cultivating ties and lending support to Serb democrats, however few in number they may be. But everyone also knows nothing will be accomplished without clear, resolute US leadership.

In Bosnia, segments of the Serb population will always be trouble so long as malign nationalism emanates from Belgrade. Drive through Bosnia's Serb territory, Republika Srpska, and see the flags of Mr. Milosevic's regime hanging from apartment balconies - even after the Serb defeat in Kosovo - and you'll get a sense of the problem.

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