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Western Press Review: Bosnia Elections -- Muddied Waters in a Muddy Pond

Prague, 30 August 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Events surrounding what one commentator calls possibly "the most complicated election ever held," darken the already turgid political situation in the former Yugoslavia. Western commentary takes a look and expresses alarm.

NEW YORK TIMES: Voting in Bosnia should be postponed 30 days

In an editorial today, the paper says: "Campaign intimidation and fraudulent voter registration in Bosnia have reached the point where minimally acceptable conditions for national elections on September 14 no longer exist. The voting should be postponed 30 days and more active steps taken by NATO forces and civilian election supervisors to remedy the worst abuses by mid-October."

The newspaper says: "Bosnian Serb leaders like Radovan Karadzic, though ostensibly sidelined, see the elections as a way to ratify their wartime conquests and are eager for them to go forward quickly." The editorial concludes: "NATO's main job -- disengagement of the warring armies -- has been accomplished. It would not unduly add to the burden or risk of the troops to ask them now to provide security for candidates and voters. There is unlikely to be long-term peace in Bosnia without credible elections."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: Absentee voters almost equal voters registered within Bosnia

Reporter Barbara Demick wrote yesterday from Berlin in a news analysis: "In what might be the most complicated election ever held, Bosnian exiles around the world began voting Wednesday for a new government they hope might help them return to their devastated homeland. About 640,000 refugees have registered to vote by absentee ballot in 55 countries -- some as remote as New Caledonia or Japan. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ( OSCE), which is coordinating the Bosnian election, said that the number of absentee voters is nearly as large as the number of people who have registered to vote within Bosnia itself." Demick wrote: "Such a process is susceptible to political manipulation, and there have been widespread allegations of fraud.."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Clinton supports a Sarajevo government with doubtful commitment to democracy and elections

Tracy Wilkinson writes today, "A futile attempt by Muslims to go home escalated (yesterday) into a tit-for-tat clash that ended only after U.S. troops detained and disarmed Bosnian Serb police while an angry Serb mob seized U.N. hostages." She says: "The episode revived the specter of wartime hostage-taking just 17 days before national elections are meant to mark another step in Bosnia's peacetime recovery." Wilkinson writes: "The Clinton administration is supporting the Sarajevo-based government, despite mounting concerns over the sincerity of its commitment to democracy and elections scheduled for September 14."

WASHINGTON POST: Ethnic strife could damage the prospects for a smooth vote

Reporting in today's paper on the same incident, John Pomfret writes in a news analysis: "The Serb attack constituted one of the most serious incidents of violence since last fall's Dayton peace accord.The violence in Mahala and the confrontation in Zvornik came at an especially sensitive time for Bosnia. The country is preparing for nationwide elections on September14 and Western diplomats have warned that ethnic strife could damage the prospects for a smooth vote."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There are good reasons for keeping troops in Bosnia

Kurt Kister comments today in the German paper, "It has been an open secret for months that NATO will not withdraw from Bosnia on December 20. Though the mandate for the Implementation Force (IFOR) ends that day, conditions in Bosnia-Herzegovina are still as difficult as ever. And any withdrawal by the multinational peacekeeping force could be the first step towards new bloodshed. It was the presence of more than 50,000 IFOR troops which forced the warring parties to abandon their trenches and has prevented their return. To this day the situation in Bosnia is not much better than that of a ceasefire guaranteed by the troops."

The commentary continues: "The renewal of the IFOR mandate also will mean a new Bundestag vote on the German role in the peacekeeping force. The way things stand it looks as if a cross-party majority will be in favor of stationing German army troops in Bosnia. In view of the situation in the Balkans there are good reasons for this."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: If Dayton is to be achieved, a new force will have to be deployed in Bosnia

Frederick Bonnart is editor of NATO's Sixteen Nations, an independent military journal. He comments in today's edition of the Tribune: "The postponement of municipal elections in Bosnia highlights the urgency of reaching another decision -- on ensuring not only that fair conditions for these elections exist next spring, but also that the country does not fall apart after the withdrawal of NATO's peace implementation force" on December 20. Bonnart goes on to say that if "the intention of Dayton is to be achieved, a new force will have to be deployed in Bosnia with a new mandate." This force, the commentary says: "must be sufficiently strong to carry out the continuing task;" and "a decision will have to be made soon if plans are to be ready by December 20."

WASHINGTON POST: American weapons for the joint Croat-Muslim army arrived last night

In a second report by John Pomfret in today's edition, the writer says in a news analysis: "The first shipment of American weapons promised to the Bosnian government under a U.S.-led program to train and equip a joint army of Croats and Muslims arrived in Sarajevo (last) night on a private transport plane." He says: "The equipment is being given to Bosnia's Muslim and Croat forces on the condition that they unite their armies, which together control 51 percent of Bosnia. The program aims to redress the balance of power in Bosnia by providing the Muslim and Croat forces with more firepower to counter that of the better-armed Bosnian Serbs. Almost every European nation opposes the program because, West European officials say, it is pumping heavy weapons into an already unstable environment."

LE FIGARO: An election is usually a means for a united political community to choose its government

Today's edition of the French newspaper carries a commentary by Renaud Girard, who asks: "Will Bosnia-Herzegovina ever regain the political unity which it had before the outbreak of the war" His answer in part: "Usually an election is the means by which an already united political community chooses its government. The assumption of Dayton is to think the inverse process is possible and to expect from the elections to bring about the unity. For the time being the assumption seems to be foolhardy. The campaign does nothing else in the three camps but strengthen the three most nationalistic parties, which are already in power."