Sarajevo, August 2 (RFE/RL) - International election monitors have begun arriving in Bosnia-Herzegovina to scrutinize what organizers are saying will be the most complex election in recent history.
The contest for a collective presidency and legislative and local councils is slated to take place September 14. Since yesterday, some 30 long-term election monitors have been in place. Fifteen more are scheduled to arrive next Tuesday. The monitors are concentrating on the earliest stages of the campaign -- a time OSCE Election Coordinator Edward Van Thijn has said will probably yield the most irregularities.
Van Thijn's spokesman, Alexander Rofati, told our correspondent today that the OSCE does not expect the upcoming elections to be "free and fair," in the usually understood sense of the phrase. At best Rofati said, "The elections should be viewed as a first step toward long-term democratization of Bosnia."
Asked what the second step might be, Rofati said it would be maintaining the presence of the international community -- including the OSCE -- after the election. As he put it: "Continued presence is necessary because these elections certainly won't solve the problem of stability."
However, Rofati did reiterate the OSCE's commitment to do all it can to ensure that the elections are, in his words, "reasonably democratic" and "free from irregularities." He said the first official word of the outcome of the electoral process could be expected within two days of voting and would come in the form of a report to the OSCE Executive Electoral Commission based in Sarajevo.
Critics already are complaining that he OSCE is failing to do enough to ensure peace in Bosnia and failing to lay the groundwork for a fair election. For example, Bosnian radio today reports that the Bosnian Party of Democratic Action (SDA) will urge the OSCE to extend the deadline for registration of voters at home and abroad, after what it called "catastrophic" preparations on the part of the OSCE.
There have been reports also that authorities in parts of Serb-controlled Bosnia are coercing refugees into registering to vote locally instead of in Muslim-Croat federation territory where they once lived. The OSCE said in a recent statement: "A full investigation is ongoing." The statement said that, if the initial evidence proves conclusive, "severe measures against perpetrators will be taken." It gave no specifics.
The refugee vote will be significant because around half of the 3.5 million people eligible to take part in the elections are displaced Muslims, Serbs or Croats in Bosnia or abroad.
Rofati declined comment today on the allegations or the recent criticism of the OSCE. He did tell our correspondent that the OSCE will not have enough monitors to watch every polling station. Plans are to establish 4,000 statios. He said the organization will cover "hot spots" where abuses are most likely. These include 49 municipalities split by a post-war inter-ethnic boundary.
The NATO-led peace implementation force in Bosnia (IFOR) has been charged with providing security for the 1,200 to 1,500 observers expected overall. Also, Rofati said, observers are being trained before deployment in security practices and what to do in cases of possible violence. He also said all observers receive training in landmine awareness.
According to Rofati, the observers will fan out across Bosnia. They already are operating regional election centers in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Bihac, Tuzla, Mostar and Sokolac. The OSCE also is opening 26 field offices in smaller towns throughout Bosnia, where field workers will follow and supervise the work of local election commissions, hold talks with local politicians, and monitor local media.