Belgrade, 15 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - The foreign ministers of Croatia and Yugoslavia, Mate Granic and Milan Milutinovic, today hailed Bosnia's weekend local elections, saying the polls will contribute to peace in the region. Both leaders, who met for talks in Belgrade, also expressed their countries' support for the 1995 Dayton peace accords. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the relatively peaceful election proved that most people in Bosnia want to be part of the peace process. British Foreign Minister Robin Cook said he was "immensely relieved" that voting had not been marred by violence.
But he cautioned it would be tougher to implement the results. Cook also said that NATO peacekeepers were unlikely to leave Bosnia next year, as scheduled.
Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg said without the 37,000-strong force, elections in Bosnia would not have been feasible. Denmark is the current chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized the polls. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the NATO-led stabilization force, SFOR, would assist the OSCE and other organizations to ensure the results of the elections are implemented.
Those results are not expected until at least Saturday. Counting is well underway today following the two days of voting for municipal councils.
Our correspondent at election headquarters in Sarajevo quotes OSCE spokesman David Foley as saying the future challenge lies in implementation. Foley dimissed critics who say the results cannot be implemented. He says those same critics also doubted the elections could ever be held.
NATO spokesman John Blakely characterized the vote as an "obvious success" despite isolated incidents. He said NATO-led troops continue to focus on providing framework security throughout the counting process. He also said they continue to perform routine missions, such as de-mining and weapons collection.
United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Kris Janowski today said that implementing the people's wish and actually installing the local councils would be difficult. But Janowski told reporters it was possibly the last best chance to unite the country in a multi-ethnic sense, and to truly ensure the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people.
There were an estimated 2.5 million registered voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The OSCE today estimated turn-out at at least 70 percent.
Our correspondent in Sarajevo quotes Robert Frowick, chief of mission in Bosnia for the OSCE, as saying the large number of voters and the peaceful way in which they conducted themselves reveals their deep desire for peace. But Frowick said an "awesome" task now remains to carry out the results of the polls in more than 100 municipalities.
The top civilian official in Bosnia, Carlos Westendorp, said the high turnout proves there is a "hunger for democracy" in Bosnia. He said authorities that refuse to abide by election results could lose out on international economic aid.
U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard said the elections are a step toward the return of refugees to their former homes. The OSCE said preliminary figures indicate 89 percent of voters registered to vote for local governments in their pre-war hometowns.