Washington, 11 September 1996 (RFE/RL) - Elections in Bosnia scheduled for this Saturday are "an essential step" in bringing democracy to the region, says a senior adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton.
National Security Adviser Anthony Lake made the observation in a commentary published today in the "New York Times." He says the elections are what the people in Bosnia want and need to secure peace.
Lake acknowledges that the elections are not expected to be perfect, noting that Bosnia is only beginning to recover from four years of war. But he says that with NATO's presence there, the conditions have been created for successful elections.
The elections are just one part of the work that is needed to create a unified Bosnia. He says "Bosnians still have a long way to go," pointing out the need for, among other things, democratic institutions such as a parliament and courts.
The United States is committed to these efforts. However, he said:
"After so much bloodshed and loss, there can be no guarantee that Bosnia's Muslims, Croats and Serbs will join together, and stay together as citizens of a shared state with common destiny."
Meanwhile, the United States' top military commander confirmed today that NATO will discuss the possibility of a post-IFOR force in Bosnia later this month.
General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the subject of a follow-up force to the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR), due to withdraw at the end of the year, would be discussed at a NATO defense ministers meeting in Bergen, Norway, September 25 and 26.
Shalikashvili refused to speculate on what sort of force it might be or what type of mandate it might have and refused to confirm whether American soldiers will participate in any follow-up force.
Shalikashvili arrived in Sarajevo today and is scheduled to meet local Bosnian civilian and military leaders. His visit comes on the same day that Bosnia's ruling Muslim nationalist Party of Democratic Action, led by President Alija Izetbegovic, is expected to announce that it will participate in this Saturday's Bosnia-wide elections.
Izetbegovic told a rally in Tuzla yesterday that he had received assurances from the United States that the election will not lead to the secession of the country's Bosnian Serb entity. The voting is designed to establish institutions for Bosnia and its two entities -- the Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Meanwhile, the top civilian envoy to Bosnia, Carl Bildt, met in Belgrade today with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The AFP news agency reports that the two were expected to discuss what will happen in Bosnia after the elections.