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Bosnia: Tension Mounts During Election Countdown

  • Lisa McAdams



Prague, 5 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- With just nine days to go until Bosnia's first post-war national elections, a spate of racially-motivated attacks is drawing renewed concern about just how democratic the vote will be.

The attacks also highlight the security risks presented to NATO peacekeepers and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is overseeing the election.

Security arrangements for the September 14 poll are crucial to the success of the effort as thousands of voters are expected to cross Bosnia's former frontlines to cast their ballots.

Interior Ministry officials from Bosnia's three factions are reported meeting today in Sarajevo to discuss arrangements to enable up to 200,000 voters to return to their home towns to vote. Their proposals are to be later discussed by NATO commanders and representatives of the main international agencies involved in supervising the election.

News reports quote a Western official close to today's discussions as saying the NATO-led peace implementation force (IFOR) and Bosnia's High Representative office, the lead international civil agency in the republic, had reservations about the plan.

"The plan presented by the parties for crossing arrangements is for the large part acceptable, but there are bits of it which we are certainly uncomfortable about," said the official, who requested anonymity.

Specifically, the official said that NATO and the High Representative's Office are unhappy that large parts of Bosnia's inter-ethnic boundary line (IEBL) would be closed on the day of voting.

Freedom of movement is a central plank of Bosnia's Dayton peace accord, under which anyone has the right to travel across the country and refugees have the right to return home.

OSCE official Flavio Cotti earlier this week complained that the circumstances in Bosnia have not "fundamentally improved" since he had announced the election date in June. Cotti said that there are still far too many violations of human rights across the country. He expressed dismay at the increase in attacks, expulsions and intimidation before the vote.

Cotti's comments came as early voting by 640,000 registered Bosnian refugees living abroad ended late Tuesday. That same day, Western officials said Bosnian Serbs were targeting Moslems in Brcko in a campaign to chase non-Serbs from the strategic area, while in Mostar European Union police reported fresh expulsions of non-Croats by extremist Croat nationalists.

Bosnia's elections were set up as one of the defining acts of the Dayton Peace Accords. The elections were to help cement the country's multi-ethnic character, but analysts say now that they seem increasingly likely to confirm nationalists' grip on power.

Officials have said freedom of movement remains the single most important condition to establish. They have also said it is proving to be most difficult to implement.

Michael Steiner, Bosnia's Deputy Civilian Peace Coordinator told RFE/RL that Bosnia's Moslems, Serbs and Croats this week agreed to set-up what he called "voter routes" along which IFOR troops and U.N. police will provide security.

NATO has also been given wider powers to keep the peace on election day. Last month, NATO earmarked 12 potential election day flashpoints. They are: Srebrenica, Doboj, Prijedor, Brcko, Jajce, Vitez, Busovaca, Kiseljak, Novi Travnik, Fojnica, Stolac and Velika Kladusa.

Velika Kladusa is the former stronghold of rebel Moslem leader Fikret Abdic. Abdic, who led a rebellion in northwest Bosnia against the pro-Sarajevo authorities in Bihac is being charged with war crimes against the civilian population and prisoners of war. The town is tense. Bosnian government officials say tension is likely to go even higher, with yesterday's announcement by Bosnian authorities that Abdic would be put on trial in absentia. Abdic lives in Croatia, where he moved after his rebellion had collapsed in 1995.

Voters will cast ballots for a Serb presidency, separate Moslem-Croat and Serb parliaments, a national House of Representatives, and Moslem-Croat cantonal assemblies. Nearly 28,000 candidates and 50 political parties are vying for their votes. OSCE estimates it could take up to ten days to tally the election results.

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