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Merkel promises help to fragile Bosnia on long path to EU


SARAJEVO (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany would help Bosnia, the last country in the queue of Western Balkan hopefuls to join the EU, to speed up an accession bid long delayed by internal political bickering.

"In Bosnia we see problems which have to be overcome," Merkel said in Sarajevo, her last stop on a Balkan tour during which she also visited Albania and Serbia. "The region can function if Bosnia is developing well."

Last year, Germany and Britain launched an initiative to revive Bosnia's bid to join the wealthy bloc by focusing on economic and social reforms rather than on divisive political issues.

The European Union has adopted the initiative as its new strategy for Bosnia and ratified in June its first official contract with the impoverished Balkan country, which was tasked to prepare and sign a reform programme.

But rival Bosnian Serb, Croat and Bosniak leaders in Bosnia have failed to agree on details of the programme, fighting instead for their respective party and ethnic interests.

Reforms would entail streamlining a bloated government, cutting income taxes and improving the climate for business.

Merkel said that reforms would require difficult decisions but that Germany was ready to help Bosnia in reducing its high unemployment rate, which stands at 27.5 percent, by offering jobs in Germany to Bosnians in coordination with the government.

The chairman of Bosnia's collective presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said he expected a reform agenda to be agreed in the next several weeks, and that Bosnia could apply for EU membership at the end of 2016 or early in 2017.

Bosnia lags behind its neighbours on the long road to joining the 28-nation EU. It has struggled to overcome ethnic divisions that linger 20 years after the end of a 1992-95 war in which some 100,000 people died.

Merkel arrived in Sarajevo shortly before the official commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre of around 8,000 Muslims by Bosnian Serb separatist forces.

She met with survivors of the atrocity, seen as Europe's worst since World War Two.

"We all need courage to go on and shape the future so that such terrifying events repeat never again," Merkel said.

On Wednesday, a British-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the massacre as a genocide was vetoed by Russia, an ally of Serbs, which described it as "not constructive, confrontational and politically motivated". [ID:nL1N0ZO14A]

(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

   

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