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Holbrooke, Steiner Say Bosnian Elections Should Go Ahead

By Rolland Eggleston

Crans-Montana, June 24 (RFE/RL) -- The former U.S. diplomat who negotiated the Dayton peace accords for Bosnia, Richard Holbrooke, says the elections should go ahead although conditions will not be perfect.

Holbrooke made his comments Sunday at an international political conference in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana. He was supported by the deputy head of the civilian peace mission in Bosnia, Michael Steiner, and Max van der Stoel, the high commissioner for minorities with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

But Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations and former foreign minister, Muhamed Sacirbey argued that holding elections in the present conditions would legitimise extremism and the division of Bosnia.

All agreed that Radovan Karadzic and other accused war criminals should be handed-over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague before the elections are held.

The debate came several days before the OSCE has to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the elections scheduled for September 14.

In his statement, Holbrooke agreed that many of the conditions for the elections have not been meet or only partially met. They include freedom of movement, beginning of the return of refugees, respect for political diversity and human rights and the prosecution of war criminals.

But he argued that the elections must be held while NATO peacekeeping forces are still in Bosnia. "If they do not take place while NATO is there they will never take place," he told the conference. He said he agreed with Sacirbey's analysis of the situation in Bosnia but he did not agree with his conclusion that the elections should be delayed.

Steiner also argued strongly for maintaining the Dayton schedule. He said it would "extremely dangerous" to tinker with the Dayton agreements. If one part was altered in any way then the whole agreement could fall apart. He also acknowledged that many of the conditions had been imperfectly met. But he said holding elections was the only way to bring new political leaders to Bosnia.

Steiner argued that the only way to ensure stability in the entire region was to achieve democratisation not only in Bosnia but also in its neighbours, Serbia and Croatia.

"The only solution for Bosnia is democratisation," he said. "But in the long term this is possible only if there is also democratisation in its mighty neighbors, Serbia and Croatia, which are both totalitarian systems". He said that only then would there be stabilisation in the region.