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Bosnia: Attacks, Harassment Mar Election Campaign

Prague, 14 August 1996 (RFE/RL) - Harassment, violent attacks, indictments, charges and countercharges have become the hallmark of the campaign before Bosnia-Herzegovina1s first country-wide election since fighting ended last year.

The September 14 elections are the centerpiece of the Dayton accords, U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said this week. The contests should provide a "unifying factor on the road to peace" between the Muslims, Croats and Serbs, he said.

But Ed Van Thijn, monitoring coordinator Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), says that campaign irregularities continue.

Voters will elect the following: Bosnia-Herzegovina: president and members of the House of Representatives (Parliament). Muslim-Croat Federation: members of the House of Representatives and cantonal assemblies. Republika Srpska: president and members of the National Assembly.

At the same time, the Bosnian-Serb and Muslim-Croat entities will hold municipal elections. According to the OSCE, 55 parties are registered to field candidates in all of these elections.

The campaign irregularities monitored by OSCE include pressuring displaced persons to cast a massive vote in such a way as to ensure the continuation of currently provided humanitarian assistance rather than making a choice for the political future of the country.

"This election engineering shows a blatant disregard for human rights and the voting guarantees of the Dayton accords," said Van Thijn.

Nine opposition parties in the federation announced yesterday that they are considering boycotting the elections in protest the manipulation of the displaced persons' vote.

Former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, who heads the Party for Bosnia Herzegovina (SBiH), says elections held under existing conditions would not only fail to be fair and democratic but would also fail to achieve the ultimate goal of the Dayton Agreement, which he describes as the "gradual achievement of democracy throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Silajdzic and other leaders of the Muslim-Croat Federation blame OSCE for providing the voters with the right to cast their ballots in their new place of residence rather than in the communities where they resided before the war broke out or cast absentee ballots. The overwhelming majority of displaced Serbs in Republika Srpska have chosen the former option, while most Muslim and Croat displaced persons refuse to renounce their rights to the communities they lived in until 1992 and are casting absentee ballots.

But this, critics say, only helps to legalize ethnic cleansing and creates new points of potential friction.

Elisabeth Rehn, U.N human rights special envoy, said after talks with Silajdzic that although preparations for the elections are far from perfect, delaying the vote would bring more violence and more harassment.

"These elections may not be totally fair or free, but they are a starting point and better than nothing at all," she said. The vote should serve as a basis for "more democratic elections" in the future, she said.

But Silajdzic predicts that holding the elections under existing conditions would amount to a complete triumph for Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic and his Serb Democratic Party (SDS), setting the stage for the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Republika Srpska Acting-President Biljana Plavsic said the following two days ago on a television program:

"After the elections, Republika Srpska will be verified and legalized as a state, as an entity within Bosnia-Herzegovina in keeping with the Dayton accord, with a large, almost 80 percent share of sovereignty in the most important sectors."

She called for "creating as peaceful and democratic a climate as possible so that people can go to the polls on election day and calmly decide whom to give power for the next two years."

General Michael Walker, commander of IFOR ground forces in Bosnia, said his troops will do everything to ensure the elections are held in peace and safety. The last thing the world wants to see are angry, unruly mobs trying to stop people from freely casting their ballots in their rightful place of voting, he said.

The general told reporters in Bijeljina in Republika Srpska last week that he anticipated the possibility of such incidents during the balloting. But he said that IFOR will make sure that "gatherings of such crowds are reduced to the minimum possible."

Incidents Include Political Intimidation By Police

In the Muslim-Croat Federation, the campaign has been marred by several incidents in the western Una-Sana canton, pitting the ruling Party of Democratic Action (SDA) of President Alija Izetbegovic against smaller opposition parties.

Two months ago, opposition leader and former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic was attacked and beaten after a campaign rally in Cazin. OSCE investigated the incident and, having concluded that local SDA officials were to blame, eliminated the names of the first seven SDA candidates in the Cazin region from the ballot.

Last week local police in Bihac arrested Besim Saric, head of the Bosnian Party for Rights (BSP), for alleged illegal business transactions and detained the vice president of the party for allegedly smuggling goods. But police questioning centered on political rather than criminal issues. The detentions came just hours before the party was to stage a rally in nearby Cazin. A spokesman for the U.N. International Police Task Force termed the incident "political intimidation."

IFOR spokesman Colin Murphy says the governor of Una-Sana canton, Mirsad Veladzic, an SDA leader, has told local religious leaders in his canton to refer to IFOR troops as "evil." Murphy says at least one Muslim cleric from Cazin has so far defied the order and come to IFOR's defense.

The Bihac public prosecutor's office last week indicted exiled Muslim separatist and former Bosnian presidency member Fikret Abdic for war crimes against civilians and prisoners of war during his failed bid to secede the Velika Kladusa and Cazin districts north of Bihac from Bosnia-Herzegovina and form an "autonomous region of Western Bosnia."

Abdic is also accused of collaboration between 1993 and last year with Bosnian Serb and Krajina Serb forces to prevent humanitarian aid convoys from reaching Bihac. Abdic now heads a political party registered in the Croat-administered part of Mostar.

Muslims and Croats differ over the delay in dissolving Herceg-Bosna -- a Croat mini-state in southwestern Bosnia -- the outcome of the recent municipal elections in Mostar, the resettlement of Muslim refugees in Croat-administered areas and Croats in Muslim-run districts. Hasib Salkic, head of the Liberal Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina, says the election campaign is deteriorating due to increasingly frequent incidents between the Croat and Muslim sides.

A joint campaign rally over the weekend by five opposition parties in the north Bosnian town of Gradacac was disrupted by an organized group of hecklers wearing SDA T-shirts and chanting "Alija, Alija" through megaphones, says Salkic.

Stjepan Kljuic, the leader of the opposition Republican party (RSBiH) and an ethnic Croat member of the collective presidency, says the harassment in Gradacac was, in his words, "perfectly organized and an indication of the tone of the remainder of the campaign." Kljuic says the ruling parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- SDA, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in ethnic Croat areas, and the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in Republika Srpska do not like each other but nevertheless get along in orchestrating what he terms the final ethnic division of Bosnia.

Liberal Bosniak (LBO) party leader Muhamed Filipovic says the elections will be neither fair nor democratic if held according to the principle 'one nation -- one party'. He says opposition parties in both the Federation and Republika Srpska are at a distinct disadvantage because they have "extremely limited" media access.

In Republika Srpska, the ruling Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) has sought to coordinate the campaign activities and platforms of most Bosnian Serb parties. But opposition presidential candidate and Banja Luka mayor Zivko Radisic has accused SDS of banning his party, the Socialist Party of Republika Srpska (SPRS), from the news media and of misusing the media to depict all opposition parties with any chance of success as traitors and enemies of the Serbs.