Washington, 4 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - With less than ten days to go before key municipal elections in Bosnia, the United States and NATO have warned hardline Bosnian Serbs that mob violence will not be tolerated.
U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the new Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Forces in Europe, told reporters Wednesday that peacekeepers in Bosnia "will use all means necessary -- including lethal means --" to carry out their mission of maintaining a secure environment.
Noting that several attacks were staged against NATO troops last week, he said he is seeing "a trend toward organized disorder on the part of some people in Srpska."
Clark was referring to hardline supporters of former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, who attacked NATO troops at a television tower in Udrigova near Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia a week ago.
Clark said "I can only warn those people that the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR) is not going to be intimidated by mob violence" and that "those who might be planning further confrontation had best re-think their plans -- because these will not be effective and instead will rebound to hurt those who organized them."
Clark helped negotiate the Dayton Peace Accords and is regarded as an expert on Bosnia. He replaced Gen. George Joulwan as NATO's top allied commander in July. He was in Washington Wednesday for the first time since he took the command.
He said the 30,000 SFOR troops would be reinforced by several thousand peacekeepers to protect voters and prevent violence during the elections set for the weekend of Sept.13 and 14.
NATO troops are also being equipped with new non-lethal weapons for crowd control -- special grenades that can knock a person down at 30 meters and balloons filled with dye that explode on impact, marking ringleaders and mob participants for later identification and arrest by police.
At the State Department on Wednesday, spokesman James Foley said that in spite of a threat by some Bosnian Serb hardliners to boycott and disrupt the elections in areas under their control, the U.S. expects the polling to take place as scheduled.
U.S. officials say the municipal poll is essential for implementing the Dayton Accords, reversing ethnic cleansing and restoring local administrations. But the elections had to be postponed twice before because of registration irregularities, intimidation and manipulation.
Some Karadzic supporters justified their planned boycott, saying NATO peacekeepers are now biased and side with Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic.
Foley readily acknowledged that the U.S. is on the side of law in Bosnia, saying "the United States supports the constitutionally elected president of the Republika Srpska."
He also warned that action would be taken against those inciting to violence and failing to keep specific promises made to resolve the dispute over the Udrigovo television transmitter.
NATO troops returned it to the control of Karadzic supporters in return for pledges that rhetoric urging violence would cease and regular airtime be given to the rival Bosnian Serb faction supporting Plavsic.
Foley said the U.S. is monitoring the broadcasts and keeping a close watch on the situation: "We are going to be watching every day now, to see whether they (Bosnian Serbs) live up to their specific commitments."
He said the U.S. is discussing with Russia and other countries concerned with Bosnia the role of the international community during the elections.
U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard is in London today for talks with British Foreign Minister Robin Cook and will continue on to Brussels to discuss NATO's activities with Secretary General Javier Solana.
Solana reportedly told NATO ambassadors in Brussels that he plans to visit Bosnia on September 12 -- one day before the polls open -- to emphasize NATO support for the vote.
SFOR troops, according to Clark, are helping plan travel and the transport of sensitive materials for the election commission, as well as determine the site of the polling places and provide extra safeguards for anticipated trouble spots.
"It's a full-scale military effort to help bring the election process to a successful completion," Clark said.
On the civilian side, the elections are being sponsored by the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. U.S. envoy Robert Frowick, who heads the OSCE Bosnia mission, said in Copenhagen Wednesday that some 2.4 million people have registered to vote, including 400,000 Bosnian refugees. He said the problems with the Serbs are no reason to postpone the elections. "The will is here to move forward," he said.
OSCE officials say more than 2,400 monitors from 39 countries will begin arriving in Croatia this week and go from there to Bosnia to observe the vote.