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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Leaders Meet to Discuss Balkans' Future

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Needing economic help from the West but skeptical about the strings attached, Balkan leaders are being given a chance to offer their own vision for bringing stability and democracy to a region that has known little peace this century.

The leaders were to discuss how to shape the future of their nations at a meeting Thursday that will be followed by a one-day summit of world leaders Friday in Sarajevo to discuss stabilizing the Balkans.

The streets of the Bosnian capital were as empty Thursday as in the worst days of the 1992-1995 artillery barrages as strict security for the Stability Pact summit kept most residents at home.

Major routes from the airport and around the summit venue were closed to all but authorized vehicles.

Residents of apartment blocks overlooking the Zetra sports complex venue and the route from the airport were told to stay off their balconies during the two-day conference.

Most businesses and offices were closed Thursday and Friday, meaning the city's residents got a four-day weekend for the inconvenience.

A military helicopter flew over the city to monitor movements as delegates arrived for the conference.

Delegations began arriving Thursday morning for the afternoon meeting.

At Friday's summit, leaders of some 40 nations are expected to endorse a "stability pact," or broad plan for promoting democracy, disarmament and economic recovery throughout southeastern Europe.

Conference organizers believe the time is right to lay the foundation for political, security and development programs.

Before departing Bucharest on Thursday for the meeting, Romanian President Emil Constantinescu said the summit marked a "historic breakthrough" because "it is the first time that the great powers are not imposing a solution" but soliciting views of leaders from the region.

"Instead of trying to isolate themselves from the instability of the Balkans," said Alpo Russi, an adviser to Finnish President Marti Ahtissari, "the European Union and others outside the region now have the chance to turn the tide of history by helping to bring peace, stability and prosperity."

State-controlled and private media in most Balkan countries, however, have given little attention to the upcoming summit. The Romanian newspaper Curierul National headlined its report: "Western aspirin to Balkan cancer patients," reflecting widespread skepticism about Western resolve to devote years and considerable resources to rebuilding the region.

Some Balkan leaders also appear to have misgivings. Slovenia and Croatia are reluctant to commit themselves to a pact that might tie their own chances for membership in the EU to the performance of poorer candidates, such as Albania and Macedonia.

Some countries, notably Romania and Bulgaria, are primarily interested in getting Western aid to offset losses in trade suffered by the 78-day NATO bombing campaign, which severed trade links to Yugoslavia.

For its part, Albania wants help for a massive reconstruction program to build infrastructure as a payment for its support of NATO during the air campaign against Yugoslavia.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was not invited to the summit.