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Bosnia: U.S. Expects Problems, But Also Success, In Election

Washington, 11 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - This Saturday's elections in Bosnia "are not the end of the process," a senior U.S. official says, but are the continuation of an international effort to rebuild a country devastated by four years of civil war.

"I believe that the elections are going to be difficult," says deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum. "I'm sure there will be criticism of many parts of them, but I think that you will find that unless there are major problems, which will always be possible, you will find that across the broad spectrum in Bosnia that the leaders will urge us then to move on to the next step."

Kornblum told a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday that the United States is convinced the elections "will come off relatively successfully."

Some members of the U.S. Congress and some human rights organizations contend that Bosnia is not ready for elections. They hold that the former Yugoslav republic is too unstable and that hostile factions divided along ethnic and racial lines will not be able to create a unified nation without the continued presence for an indefinite time of a large body of NATO alliance peacekeeping troops.

Kornblum, however, says that "after the bitter warfare that went on for nearly four years in Bosnia-Hercegovina, we did not expect that there would be immediate harmony and cooperation, let alone friendship among the parties."

The elections are one of the results of the Dayton peace accord that ended fighting between the Bosnian Muslim government, Bosnian Serbs, and Croats. About 60,000 NATO troops, plus thousands of troops from other European countries, have been in Bosnia since December in an effort to keep the warring parties apart, assist in the resettling of refugees and help re-build roads, bridges and towns destroyed by war.

Kornblum says all of the criticisms have been taken into account. However, he says NATO and other European nations are convinced that elections are essential now.

"The process was not set up to focus on, in this case, September 14 as the final day of restoration of normal conditions and reconciliation," said Kornblum. He says the elections were decided upon "as an effort to establish a common ground, a legitimacy for the next very difficult stages of the process ... and I have not met one person who does not want these elections to go forward."

Thomas Longstreth, the director of the U.S. Defense Department's Bosnia Task Force, says the NATO force, the International Police Task Force and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been working together since April to ensure that the elections are carried out fairly and peacefully.

He says alliance troops will also work with local law enforcement officials "to provide for voter security and freedom of movement on election day."

"Much is left to be done," said Longstreth. "But Bosnia is slowly and steadily recovering from the horrors of war. People are back out on the streets in shops and cafes. Buildings and roads are being repaired. And new businesses are opening as the country begins to return to normal."