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Bosnia: OSCE's Frowick Confident But Cautious About Elections

Sarajevo, 13 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The top official of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe overseeing elections in Bosnia says that he is confident the best possible conditions have been established for the country's first post war vote tomorrow.

In an exclusive RFE/RL interview today, Ambassador Robert Frowick told our correspondent in Sarajevo that he bases his assessment on the OSCE's removal of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic from office and on the postponement of municipal elections. Frowick said that, with those two issues resolved, the prospects for what he called a "manageable election" tomorrow are far better than initially hoped.

He acknowledged, however, that he still is concerned about a potential for violence when Bosnian Muslims, Croats and Serbs turn out to vote for cantonal assemblies, separate Muslim-Croat and Serb parliaments, a national House of Representatives, a Serb president and a collective president.

"I am an optimist without illusions," he said.

He said the OSCE has done everything it can to lessen the likelihood of violence, but, he said, "You never know."

In an effort to avert problems, he said, the OSCE has had intensive ministerial-level discussions with Federation and Republika Srpska officials and outside experts to develop what they are calling "recommended routes," or safe passages for voters wishing to cross inter-entity boundary lines. Frowick said the routes will be safeguarded by local police, International Police Task Force (IPTF) officers, and NATO Implementation Force troops. IFOR troops also have been given wider powers for election day.

The OSCE has said from the outset that the vote will not be free and fair by Western democratic standards. Asked in the interview why the process should go forward, Frowick put his answer this way:

"Without elections, Bosnia has no hope of creating the joint institutions outlined under Dayton to unify the country," he said.

Critics say that the tragedy of the Bosnian war is being followed by what they call "the farce of Bosnian elections."

Frowick said he anticipates contention following announcement of the election's results. But, he told our correspondent, the OSCE will deal individually with claims. He also said it will be essential for the international community to stay in Bosnia at least until the next elections in 1998 to help solidify the effort.

As for the postponed municipal elections, Frowick said he hopes that they can be held very soon. He said enough money remains in the OSCE budget to ensure that the municipals are manageable. But, he said, his organization must first get through what he has called "the most complex election process this century."

Refugees are to make up a significant part of the vote in Bosnia, and Frowick said he thinks the early balloting has been, in his words, "remarkably successful." He said early OSCE results found 80 percent of the nearly 650,000 registered refugee voters participated in the process. There's concern that some of those same refugees might try to travel to Bosnia on polling day to vote a second time. Frowick acknowledged that he is worried about that possibility. He said that his office is considering appropriate measures. He declined to elaborate.

Frowick and the coordinator of international observers in Bosnia, Edward Van Thijn, will have the task of certifying the elections. Frowick told our correspondent that their separate reports will then be sent on to the chairman of the OSCE in Vienna , Flavio Cotti.

Van Thijn, a former interior minister of The Netherlands, is known as an independent-minded man who already has publicly pronounced the pre-election process as "a fraud." Asked if he is concerned that Van Thijn may make a damning report, Frowick said, "I am not worried about it." He described Van Thijn as "a balanced and honorable person." He said he is confident they will "see objectively pretty much the same thing."

Frowick acknowledged that it is early in the aftermath of the war to try to orchestrate effective elections in a reasonably democratic process. But, he said, his thought on the eve of the election is that the OSCE is better positioned than people might have imagined last spring.