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OSCE Sees Difficulties Ahead In Organizing Bosnian Elections

Munich, Feb 5 (RFE/RL) - The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is responsible for preparing elections in Bosnia, says it will be difficult to do so by September, as required by the Dayton Peace Accords.

An OSCE statement said the conditions in Bosnia, the absence of adequate electoral rolls and the question of giving voting rights to refugees make it difficult to ensure democratic elections.

The statement was issued after the foreign ministers of the OSCE's controlling troika - Switzerland, Hungary and Denmark - visited Sarajevo last week. Hungary's foreign minister Laszlo Kovacs told an RFE/RL correspondent in Munich at the weekend the ministers were dismayed at the problems to be overcome in a short time.

"One of the problems will be the drawing-up of electoral rolls," Kovac said. "For obvious reasons, the rolls drawn up for the national census in 1991 are virtually worthless. Thousands are dead, thousands are missing and no one knows whether they are alive or dead. Many others are refugees in other parts of the former Yugoslavia, or in various parts of western Europe. Just putting an electoral roll together in the time we have got will be a problem."

Kovacs said the OSCE considers it essential that refugees be assured a vote, but is uncertain how to organise it. "There are an estimated 700,000 refugees in foreign countries," he said. "Obviously you cannot have a free and fair election unless these people are allowed to cast a vote. It is not realistic to expect that most of them will have returned to Bosnia by the time the elections are held."

He said that Germany, which supports about 320,000 refugees, does not plan to even begin to repatriations until July.

Kovacs said the OSCE would work-out a system of absentee voting, but would need the cooperation of governments and refugee organisations to make it effective. He said the OSCE would also try to screen the candidates. Under the Dayton Accords, those convicted of war crimes are not allowed to hold public office, but he said it would be impossible to ensure that all the candidates had clean records during the four years of war.

Other western diplomats have said another problem is the question of fair media coverage. Most of the electronic media in Bosnia is tied to one of the three ethnic parties. Attempts to start a nation-wide independent TV channel have, so far, been unsuccessful.

Kovacs said the OSCE has a seven-man mission to prepare the elections and resolve the difficulties. It is made up of one representative each from the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, and the three Bosnian factions.

Kovacs said it is unclear what will happen if the OSCE decides the conditions for holding free and fair elections have not been met within the time frame contained in the Dayton Accords. "They may be postponed until conditions are ripe," he said. "But at this time we are working on the basis that the work will be completed on time and the elections will be held by September."