- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Bosnian marathon

The foreign minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina swept through Washington last week holding 16 meetings in 24 hours to seek support for his moderate reformist government in the Oct. 5 general election.

Zlatko Lagumdzija told our correspondent, Nicholas Kralev, that a victory by opposition nationalist forces would gravely threaten the peaceful co-existence of Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

That arrangement, he noted, should be a model of multi-ethnic society, especially at a time of tension between the Muslim world and the West.

"The election is a big challenge for us and the international community," Mr. Lagumdzija said. "We need as much support as we can get, because we have a very weak state and we need to strengthen it."

For the first time since the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the civil war, Bosnia's voters will elect a parliament and government for four years, instead of two. The campaign issues this time will be the economy, education and health care, rather than "the ones that drove us into war," the foreign minister said.

"The three main nationalist parties currently have 19 seats in the 42-seat parliament, and we want to reduce that number under 15," he said.

On July 25 and 26, he met with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice and President Bush, who dropped by Miss Rice's office during the meeting. Mr. Lagumdzija also held talks on Capitol Hill and at the International Monetary Fund.

He said he believed that "the ring is getting smaller and smaller" around former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who, Mr. Lagumdzija noted, is hiding in the Serbian-controlled part of Bosnia.

"Five years ago, his arrest would have created turbulence," the minister said of Mr. Karadzic, who is wanted by The Hague tribunal on war-crimes charges. "Now it will create relief."

A-Baki for president

Ecuadoran Ambassador Ivonne A-Baki intends to be the first woman elected president of her South American nation.

Mrs. A-Baki announced her candidacy this week on a home visit to Ecuador and said she has already collected 60,000 of the 80,000 signatures needed on a nominating petition. She plans to run as an independent.

"I plan to be a candidate, but I am coming here as ambassador," she said in an Ecuadoran television interview broadcast Monday night. "I haven't quit, so it isn't official."

Mrs. A-Baki, 51, would have to leave Washington before the Aug. 20 deadline to register for the Oct. 20 election, when voters will select a new president, vice president and Congress. She has been ambassador here since 1999.

The Harvard-educated diplomat will join a field of candidates led by banana millionaire Alvaro Noboa and former President Rodrigo Borja.

She said her campaign will focus on creating jobs and stabilizing an economy still recovering from a financial crisis in 1999.

"Has our political system given results? No." she said. "It's time to make a change, to create solid bases for investment, to create jobs so people don't feel they have to emigrate and leave their families."

Egypt rejects criticism

Egypt rejected U.S. criticism yesterday of the sentencing of an Egyptian-American civil rights activist convicted of tarnishing Egypt's image and illegally accepting foreign funds for his organization.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher accused the United States of playing politics in the case of Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison.

"It's unusual for an embassy, whatever one it is, to publish a commentary on a verdict," he told reporters in Cairo, referring to a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy. "It's not a political affair, and it must not be politicized."

The embassy issued a statement from Charge d'Affaires Gordon Gray, who said he was "discouraged" that the High State Security Court convicted Mr. Ibrahim, who holds dual U.S. and Egyptian citizenship.

"On many occasions we have expressed our concern to the Egyptian government, both here and in Washington, about the process that led to this verdict," he said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker added Monday that the United States is "deeply disappointed" by the verdict.

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