Washington, 10 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - As Bosnia's weekend municipal election draws near, the U.S. is using various avenues to signal a tough, uncompromising stand against disruptions by defiant supporters of Radovan Karadzic, former Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect.
State Department spokesman James Foley assured reporters Tuesday that the elections will proceed as planned and that the situation in Banja Luka is under NATO control and calm, after NATO forces prevented busloads of Pale hardliners from entering Banja Luka and taking over the town.
He said the attempt to bus in Pale-paid hardliners in the hundreds, even thousands, supposedly for a political rally on Monday, was in fact an attempted coup against Plavsic.
Foley said in violation of the Dayton accords, many on the buses carried illegal weapons and also falsely claimed to be Banja Luka residents.
"Their intent was clearly to try and overwhelm the local legitimate elected authorities of Banja Luka," Foley said.
But he said the attempt was foiled and the NATO Stabilization Force will continue to make "a very vigorous effort to ensure that there is no disruption of these elections....the elections will take place and they will be successful."
He said U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard will leave for Bosnia tomorrow to observe first-hand the conduct of the nation-wide municipal poll set for Saturday and Sunday.
In Brussels and Bosnia, NATO officials made similar statements of confidence in the elections and in NATO's resolve to maintain law and order.
NATO and U.S. officials blame Karadzic as the force behind the latest drama in Banja Luka which ended Tuesday ignominiously in the flight of Bosnian Serb hardline leader Momcilo Krajisnik, dodging blows and stones from enraged supporters of Biljana Plavsic, the duly elected president of Republika Srpska.
Krajisnik, the Serb member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency, and about 100 others drove into Banja Luka separately and were trapped in a hotel by Plavsic supporters for hours, initially threatening to shoot their way out.
Foley called the Pale Serbs an isolated group condemned by history, saying they have no popular support and the rally they wanted to stage Monday was not a legitimate political event and attracted almost no attendance from people in the area.
"The only people who were attending that rally were those who were bused in for nefarious purposes," he said.
Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday at a Washington press conference that the Banja Luka confrontation was the most dangerous situation since the Dayton Accords were signed in 1995. But he said it is a crisis for Bosnian Serbs, not for NATO.
"NATO forces are not going to allow themselves to be pushed around by a band of thugs," Holbrooke said, adding that the western alliance would respond swiftly and severely if it suffered casualties.
He warned against further defiance of Dayton and NATO, saying that "if Bosnian Serbs continue to challenge the premises of the Dayton agreement, they will be extraordinarily sorry and if they continue to harrass NATO forces, they will pay a very heavy price."
Holbrooke, formerly America's chief negotiator on Bosnia, has left the U.S. State Department but continues to advise the U.S. president and Secretary of State on Balkan matters and occasionally undertakes official diplomatic missions to the region.
Asked about the announced intentions of the major Bosnian Serb and Croat parties to boycott the elections, Holbrooke said: "It is stupid. It is their mistake. They will play no role in the future of their own region. The election will go forward without them and other people will take power and then they are finished."
Holbrooke said a new generation of leaders is waiting in the wings in former Yugoslavia -- "modern, post-communist-era people, waiting to rise to power," who will bring their country into the rest of Europe.
He said it is a tragedy that the rest of Europe is moving on while former Yugoslavia stands still outside progress and economic cooperation.
"These countries should set aside these silly 19th century quarrels over ethnicity and get on with mutual economic cooperation."