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Human Rights Group Says Bosnia Not Ready for Election

Washington, June 11 (RFE/RL) -- A leading American human rights group says Bosnia is not ready for free and fair elections and that the Dayton peace accords will fail unless immediate measures are taken to enforce respect for human rights.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch, an independent monitoring group, has released a report on human rights in Bosnia, concluding that "the parties to the Dayton accords have failed to comply with significant aspects of the Dayton civilian provisions" and the international community has failed to implement the Dayton agreement.

The 40-page report, based on two month-long, fact-finding missions to Bosnia, finds minority populations are still at risk and documents what it describes as "ethnically and politically motivated killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, physical mistreatment and harrassment of minorities."

The report says victims have little chance of getting protection from local police and government authorities who often themselves share in responsibility for the abuse.

It says the press is severely restricted, there is limited movement throughout the territory, refugees have not been able to return to their homes, and indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic maintain dominant political and military control.

"If the elections go forward under these conditions, the international community will become an accomplice to a lie," the report says, adding that the results will be "a corrupt election, undermining the entire peace process and increasing the likelihood of increased conflict."

It criticizes the U.S. for, as the report puts it "blindly ignoring the mounting evidence" and continuing to push for elections before October.

U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns Monday reiterated the U.S. position that although conditions will not be perfect, it's important to go ahead with the elections and let the people of Bosnia decide who will represent them in the presidency and the legislative assembly.

He said at issue is whether "the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be allowed to decide their future, or, are we going to delay that and allow this interregnum to continue?"

He cited examples of Angolans, Salvadorans and Cambodians who all put their civil wars behind them and went to the polls, sometimes overcoming considerable hardship to cast votes, and elect a new government.

Burns emphasized that in talks in Geneva and Berlin earlier this month, all the Balkan leaders and all the western foreign ministers said the elections should go forward. "There's a surprising degree of consensus on this question," he said.

Accordingly, he says an international conference, meeting in the Italian city of Florence at the end of this week, will review the situation in Bosnia and recommend an election date, likely to be in early September.

Burns says the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which will take the lead in helping organize and monitor the elections, will hold a meeting next week -- June 20th -- to consider the recommendation and make the final decision.

Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. State Department official credited with being the architect of the Dayton accords, has said the elections will be imperfect but that it is essential they take place.

He said recently that without elections, indicted war criminals probably will grab even more power. Holbrooke also warned that if elections are not held while NATO forces are in Bosnia, they probably will never be held.

The Helsinki Watch report says, however, that "certification of elections at this time can only be a farce."

The report makes a series of recommendations, including a provision that the OSCE chairman, who is charged with certifying conditions for free and fair elections, should not do so unless those conditions really exist.

It says the chairman should present a public report on compliance and convene a meeting of parties to the Dayton accords to set a specific timetable for accomplishing concrete measures that would bring Bosnians Serbs, Muslims and Croatians into compliance.

The report says failure to meet set goals should be immediately punished by reactivating sanctions or withholding economic aid.

It warns that "the failure of Dayton is in the making, and the U.S. and West European governments must bear responsibility, unless immediate and decisive steps are taken to enforce respect for human rights, ensure the right to return for refugees and displaced persons, establish the conditions necessary for free and fair elections and bring to justice those responsible for war crimes."