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Bosnia: Bihac Leader Ostracized In Bosnia Election Campaign

Bihac, 2 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Fikret Abdic, top leader of the Democratic People's Union (DNC), is the "most wanted" man in Bosnia. He lives in exile in Croatia's Adriatic resort of Opatija. But he is also a candidate for election to a seat in Bosnia's collective presidency.

In the last Bosnian presidential election, in 1990, Abdic won the most votes. But he let Alija Izetbegovic head the collective presidency. After fighting broke out in 1992, Abdic went back to his native Velika Kladusa near Bihac. He said that he wanted to be with his people because they were encircled by Bosnian-Serb and Krajina-Serb forces and cut off from Bosnian authorities in Sarajevo.

Abdic subsequently worked out a deal with United Nations peacekeepers to lease his agro-industrial facilities as a base in exchange for payment and transport of goods into the besieged region.

But Abdic's relations with Sarajevo gradually worsened and he eventually declared the area a West Bosnia autonomous republic.

Through much of 1994, Abdic's supporters fought the Sarajevo-controlled Bosnian army for control of Velika Kladusa and Cazin, both north of Bihac. They were backed by Belgrade and Zagreb. Bosnia authorities have never forgiven Abdic for the rebellion.

This year, Abdic registered his Democrat People's Union in the Croat-controlled part of the city of Mostar. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has the U.N. mandate to organize and control Bosnia's new elections, has quietly acquiesced. And Abdic declared his candidacy for presidency.

Last month the Bosnian authorities moved to have the Bihac prosecutor charge Abdic with war crimes against civilians and prisoners-of-war. The move was designed to prevent Abdic from running.

But an OSCE representative in Bihac told RFE/RL that the indictment is a violation of the Dayton Accords, as only the Hague Tribunal can indict Abdic for war crimes. And only then could OSCE bar Abdic's candidacy.

Local and regional (canton) officials of Izetbegovic's SDA have repeatedly alleged that the international community is backing Abdic. They note that nothing has been done to shut down Abdic's radio station, which broadcasts from a powerful transmitter. OSCE says the transmitter is located on a Bosnian Croat military base near Drvar, just outside the Una-Sana region (canton). According to OSCE officials, the station, known as Velkaton, has not violated media rules concerning the election campaign.

Last month, OSCE launched Radio Free Elections in the Una-Sana region (canton). Its first broadcast featured an interview with Abdic. Regional (canton) officials protested, claiming this was further evidence of OSCE support for Abdic. But the OSCE says that it was just a coincidence.

In the interview, Abdic protested his innocence. He said the accusations are merely an attempt by the ruling SDA to discredit his candidacy. Abdic described himself as the leader of the Muslim people for the last 23 years. His said that his wife, Savila, has resided with some 4,000 of his followers at the Gasinci refugee camp in eastern Croatia. He said that she does it out of solidarity with the exiles.

Subsequently, Bihac representatives of IFOR, the U.N. International Police Task Force (IPTF), the European Union (EU) monitoring mission and OSCE all received reports that Abdic intended to hold a rally in Velika Kladusa.

The Governor of Una-Sana, Mirsad Veladzic, told RFE/RL that the appearance of Fikret Abdic could disturb the electoral campaign.

"Considering that he is a war criminal, and that he has been indicted for his crimes, any appearance by him will result in his arrest," Veladzic said. He added that anyone who tried to support Abdic would have problems with the authorities.

OSCE notes that the government controlled radio in Velika Kladusa has repeatedly broadcast what OSCE terms "inflammatory" messages, warning that OSCE and IFOR would be held responsible for any deaths or injuries resulting from allowing Abdic or his DNC into town. DNC is fielding candidates for the regional (cantonal) assembly in addition to Abdic

OSCE told the station to explain why Abdic and his party are being allowed to run in the elections. OSCE's regional office in Bihac insists it has had no direct contact with Abdic or his party.

Local and international observers told an RFE/RL correspondent in Bihac that Abdic has virtually no chance of repeating his success of 1990. The race for president, they say, is between Izetbegovic and Bosnia's former prime minister Haris Silajdzic.