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Bosnia: Christopher Talks About What's Next

Washington, 19 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Now that the national elections in Bosnia are over, the United States is looking ahead to difficult regional issues concerning NATO peacekeepers, sanctions against Serbia and municipal elections in Bosnia.

But U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher says the most important task is to form the institutions of a national multiethnic government. He told a news conference Wednesday that the national institutions created by Saturday's elections must be quickly established.

"We must now move forward with both speed and determination," he said.

Christopher acted quickly to congratulate Bosnia's president, Aliya Izetbegovic, telephoning him shortly after he was declared the winning candidate in the presidential poll.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the final but still unofficial count gave Izetbegovic a narrow margin over the Bosnian Serb candidate, Momcilo Krajisnik.

That means Izetbegovic will head Bosnia's new, collective three-man presidency for the next two years.

Christopher asked Izetbegovic to meet with him in New York next week where he will be attending the 1996 United Nations General Assembly. The task of forming a new government is expected to be the main focus of their discussion.

The United States wants to see an early meeting of the presidency -- Izetbegovic and Krajisnik along with Croat candidate Kresimir Zubak -- and the naming of the new Council of Ministers, according to RFE/RL's Washington correspondent.

A U.S. State Department official says equally important is the swearing-in of the new 42-member joint House of Representatives. Under Bosnia's constitution, the council of ministers has to be approved by the House of Representatives.

The official, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said the United States expects a lot of wrangling among the ethnic groups in negotiations to form the new government.

"This is a process for the Bosnians to handle themselves, but when there are difficulties, the United States will try to step in and help resolve them," he said.

The official said America's top negotiator for Bosnia, Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum, returned last night from a trip to the region and plans to go back to Bosnia and the Balkans again in early October.

At the news conference, Christopher said he assured Izetbegovic that the United States will continue "to work with great determination" for a peaceful, unified Bosnia. He said the election results reflect the divisions that continue to exist within the Bosnian society and that these divisions will not be overcome overnight.

Christopher hailed the elections as "a major victory" for democracy but cautioned that they were only one step in a long process.

One of the next steps is the long-awaited municipal elections that were postponed because of numerous incidents of local ethnic conflict.

Christopher said the United States will press for the municipal vote to be held before the end of the year while international NATO peacekeeping forces (IFOR) remain fully deployed.

He said if municipal elections are held successfully, IFOR will have completed its basic mission and can depart as originally planned in December.

Asked about a continued smaller American presence in Bosnia, Christopher said the United States and its allies will be discussing this question in the months ahead to see "whether there is a need for some kind of entity or presence there thereafter."

The allied commander of all NATO forces in Europe, U.S. general George Joulwan,told reporters in Washington Wednesday the municipal elections could slow the withdrawal of NATO forces from Bosnia.

Joulwan said a capable NATO force would have to remain in Bosnia to help provide security at some 4,500 polling stations. If the municipal poll takes place before December 20, when NATO's mandate in Bosnia is to end, Joulwan said he will recommend postponing a troop withdrawal until after the election.

"I think we will have several weeks (after December 20) before we get the NATO force out," he said.

Regarding the international sanctions against Serbia, the United States expects those imposed by the United Nations Security Council to be lifted as early as next month.

Christopher noted that under the Dayton peace accords, the U.N. Security Council is obliged to consider lifting the sanctions shortly after the national elections are certified as having been successful.

Since the elections were, as Christopher put it, "orderly, calm and democratic, and free of violence" the OSCE, which organized the Saturday vote, is expected to issue a positive certification before the end of this month, enabling the U.N. to lift trade and economic sanctions.

However, that does not mean Serbia will be able to lead a sanction-free life. The United States is reserving the right to continue its own, so-called "outer wall of sanctions" against Serbia.

These unilateral restrictions include witholding U.S. recognition of the independent state of Serbia, financial assistance and blocking Serbia's access to international institutions.

The State Department official says the United States will maintain these sanctions until the Belgrade government stops oppressing the Albanian minority in its Kosovo province. The sanctions will also continue until it improves compliance with the Dayton accords on war criminals and on Republika Srpska's status as one of two entities within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Serbia's president Slobodan Milosevic is one of the guarantors of the Dayton accords.