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Press Review: Russian Elections, Muslim Refugees in Bosnia

Prague, April 29 (RFE/RL) - Western press commentary focuses today on the presidential election campaign in Russia and the problems Muslim refugees face attempting to return to their homes in Bosnia. Claudia Rosett comments today in the Wall Street Journal Europe on the decision by some prominent Russian reformers to support Russian president Boris Yeltsin in the June presidential elections. The reformers are led by Yegor Gaidar, a former top economic adviser to Yeltsin.

"...But it is an anguished form of support, based not on reviving regard for Mr. Yeltsin but on raw fear of the Communists.... Like a growing number of liberals, Mr. Gaidar has now concluded that splitting the democratic vote among other non-Communist candidates, such as moderate Grigory Yavlinsky, could backfire into victory for the Communist Mr. Zyuganov." Rosett writes that the decision to support Yeltsin came Saturday at a meeting of Gaidar's political party, Russia's Choice. "The basic issue put to the floor was whether to compromise the party's democratic principles by supporting Mr. Yeltsin, or whether to shun Mr. Yeltsin and so risk a Communist win that many fear could erase Russian democracy altogether."

David Hoffman writes today in the International Herald Tribune... "Mr. Gaidar is following in the footsteps of other reformers who have lately returned to the Yeltsin camp.... But Mr. Gaidar told the Moscow chapter of his party that failure to back Mr. Yeltsin could only lead to a victory for the Communist Party candidate, Gennady Zyuganov." Said Gaidar,... "If we do not assume any position in the first round, we will objectively increase the chances of Zyuganov to win."

Irina de Chikoff comments today in a news analysis in Le Figaro on 13 millionaire bankers, oil tycoons and industrial barons who have declared their neutrality in the election and urged Yeltsin and Zyuganov "to find a compromise because there is no political entity who would have the right to impose his view on an entire society." The millionaires declared in a manifesto published Saturday in the Izvestia newspaper that they will warn Russia's future president, whoever it will be, "that they have all the means necessary to control him." They said the future president "will have to take into account that he's a man of the minority and will be forced to accept major concessions."

Dietmar Ostermann writes today in the Frankfurter Rundschau on the "secret talks" aimed at forming a "third power" to compete for the Russian presidency. Ostermann says the talks began last month on forming a third power coalition, but the talks are currently stalled." Ostermann says the coalition would involve presidential candidates Alexander Lebed, Grigory Yavlinsky and Svyatoslav Fyodorov and could defeat Yeltsin or Zyuganov. Ostermann says that if such a coalition is formed, "two candidates are supposed to withdraw from the race in favor of the one placed in the best position."

The Financial Times says today that Zyuganov... "reflects the concerns of Russia's disillusioned and dispossessed and rails against the maladministration of tsar-president Boris Yeltsin. He bemoans the loss of Russia's great-power status, its criminal privatization program, its many social injustices and the destruction of its industry and agriculture."

The British newspaper the Independent says in a news analysis today that "angry mobs and disgruntled refugees will slowly but surely pull down a pillar of the Dayton peace agreement - the right of displaced Bosnians to return home - unless NATO is willing to enforce free movement, as was agreed at Dayton."... "The crowds confronting one another across the internal border may degenerate into conflict if the local authorities, particularly the Bosnian Serbs, who abhor an ethnic mix, continue to block the return of refugees. The agreement could collapse if thousands displaced by war lose hope of returning in peace and resort again to force." The International Herald Tribune comments today on yesterday's (Sunday's) action by NATO troops who blocked the return of Muslim refugees to their former homes in Bosnia in order to prevent ethnic clashes between the refugees and Bosnian Serbs who are now living in areas formerly occupied by the Muslims."... On paper, the Dayton agreement preserved Bosnia as a single country divided into a Muslim-Croat federation and a Serbian republic, with a porous administrative demarcation between them. In reality, the inter-entity boundary line has become a de facto border where freedom of movement and the right of refugees to return to their homes, both guaranteed by Dayton, are routinely blocked."... About 600 Bosnian Muslim refugees tried to visit their homes in the Serbian-held town of Prijedor, but had to turn back when Serbs would not guarantee their security."

Julian Borger writes today in a news analysis in the Guardian:... "if the mainly Muslim crowds manage to assert their right to resettle, Bosnia and Herzegovina will have taken a significant step towards reintegration and reunification. That was the Sarajevo government's central war aim. If the Serb crowds manage to hold the Muslims back, the old confrontation line will continue to harden into a rigid frontier. Bosnia's ethnic partition will be complete, and the Serb separatists in their headquarters in Pale will have won."

Stacy Sullivan says today in the London Times that NATO peacekeepers "felt compelled" to prevent Muslims from crossing into Serb territory yesterday (Sunday) "after a menacing crowd of Serbs gathered at the town of Teslic and threatened to beat the returning Muslims with axes and sticks." The 150 Muslims had requested permission from Serb authorities to return to Teslic for a day to visit relatives, see their old homes and visit the graves of loved ones. But local Serb authorities "reneged on an earlier agreement." A Serb policeman said, "the civilian masses won't let anyone pass." Instead of escorting the Muslims, NATO troops stopped them from entering the town. "We are not supposed to stop anyone crossing," said Lieutenant Colonel Jan Szczeesny, the commanding officer at the scene, "but we have to do it for their own safety."

Sullivan continues that "the gathering of angry Serbs appears to be an effort by the Bosnian Serb leadership to prevent the reintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina and maintain their ethnically pure republic. Serb police on the scene did nothing to break up the crowd and appeared to encourage them."