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Bosnia: Czech IFOR Troops Prepare For Elections

Donja Ljubija, Bosnia; 12 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A spokesman for a Czech IFOR contingent in Bosnia says that his unit is fully prepared to secure safe balloting in the elections slated for this Saturday.

The Czech Republic's contingent of 800 soldiers is assigned by NATO's Implementation Force (IFOR) to operate in the westernmost corner of the country. Its spokesman, Vladimir Palan, told RFE/RL last week that the Czech contingent is responsible for election security in nine Bosnian districts in Republika Srpska and in the Muslim Croat federation. He said the unit is storing 20 tons of balloting materials at its five bases.

The area under the Czechs' purview includes the heavily damaged and depopulated towns of Otoka and Bosanska Krupa in the Federation and Kozarac in Republika Srpska. It also includes two towns with a history of intra-Muslim political hostilities -- Cazin and Velika Kladusa as well as the site of the Bosnian Serb Omarska concentration camp.

In addition, the Czechs are also responsible for election security in numerous communities in Republika Srpska in which Muslim and Croat residents were the victims of ethnic cleansing. This concerns particularly areas in and around Prijedor, Bosanski Novi/ Novi Grad, Kostajnica and Dubica. Large numbers of Muslim refugees from these communities are expected to cross the inter-entity boundary line on Saturday to vote in their hometowns.

Palan says Czech liaison officers last months conducted extensive negotiations with local officials in both entities. He says that the officers visited more than 300 polling stations to ensure compliance with the Dayton accords. They have also assisted representatives of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has a mandate to supervise the elections..

The Czechs' main task now is to ensure transportation and storage of balloting materials as well as to maintain security during the balloting. Similar tasks are assigned to all other IFOR units and to the United Nations Police Task Force (IPTF).

Banja Luka-based British IFOR spokesman, Colonel Peter Brook, told RFE/RL last week that "it is our intent to ensure that all voters have the opportunity to vote without violence or harassment." He said IFOR has a series of contingencies, including rapid deployment of forces to prevent, what he terms, possibly "bloody confrontations."

IPTF spokesman in Banja Luka, Alun Roberts, notes that early this month his agency reached agreement with the chief of police in Prijedor to allow U.N. police to be present in polling stations on election day. The chief was said to have specifially requested U.N. presence in Kostajnica, Bosanski Novi/Novi Grad and Ostra Luka.

Roberts describes this as a welcome sign of cooperation. He quotes the police chief as saying he plans to deploy 590 policemen in the Prijedor area on Saturday.