Sarajevo, 12 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - U.S. General Wesley Clark, NATO's Supreme Allied military commander, says SFOR troops are ready to use lethal force if needed to secure peace during Bosnia-Herzegovina's municipal elections. Our correspondent in Sarajevo quotes Clark as saying that his troops will not be intimidated or deterred from overseeing security for the ballot tomorrow and Sunday. SFOR has the "capability, authority, and leadership" to ensure peace, he said.
Clark also said the NATO mandate on the apprehension of suspected war criminals remains unchanged. He said if SFOR troops encounter any indicted war crimes suspects during the election they will be apprehended and handed over to authorities at The Hague (ICTY).
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana pledged that the international community will not abandon Bosnia in the months following the vote. Solana said SFOR has a commitment to remain in Bosnia until next June and will evaluate then whether conditions allow for SFOR troops to withdraw.
Solana also rejected claims that NATO was taking sides in the power struggle between Bosnian-Serb President Biljana Plavsic and her predecessor Radovan Karadzic, an indicted war crimes suspect. He said NATO supports only the Dayton peace process.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has spoken out against last-minute modifications to election rules regarding the potential arrest of war criminals during Bosnia's municipal elections this weekend.
ICTY released its statement through UN police chief Alex Ivanko at a press briefing in Sarajevo. Our correspondent there says the ICTY said it was not consulted prior to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) modifications to the rules yesterday and that it did not agree with the decision taken by the OSCE provisional electoral commission (PEC).
However, the Tribunal said it recognizes that the OSCE reached an agreement on this issue which will be in effect during polling Saturday and Sunday. Ivanko later clarified to reporters that the ICTY is a judicial body with no powers of arrest on the ground.
OSCE spokesman David Foley added that the OSCE would not be issuing any orders of arrest either. And he again restated that the new PEC rules forbid the arrest of anyone on war crimes charges who has not been "officially" indicted by the ICTY and is refusing to comply with an order to appear before that Tribunal.
The OSCE earlier said the rule was designed to protect voters who crossed the inter-entity boundary line from being arrested on local war crimes charges not approved by the ICTY. The addition of sealed indictments to the process recently had caused anxiety among some Bosnian-Serb authorities who said they were afraid their voters might be arrested when they came to cast their ballot.
Earlier today, western officials overseeing the election process said conditions on the ground look good.
Our correspondent in Sarajevo reported that Dun Bollivant of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) said today Bosnia's common institutions appear to have "a new lease on life" in these final hours before voting begins. Bollivant said Bosnia's council of ministers have held successful talks and that the joint presidency is also expected to meet before tomorrow.
The OSCE's David Foley told a press briefing that only one minor incident was reported overnight involving a mini-bus carrying OSCE personnel. Foley said there were no injuries and the OSCE did not view the incident as an attack on its personnel.
An SFOR spokesman reported that 90 percent of the election materials have been delivered and that the process should be completed later today.
Meanwhile, the OSCE's top official, Ambassador Robert Frowick, said he is confident the Croat Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina (HDZ) will cooperate fully in tomorrow's elections. He said a final statement on HDZ's threatened boycott and subsequent climbdown after western negotiations would be issued later today. He declined to provide details on the negotiations, but did say the situation in Mostar figured most prominently in the discussions.
Earlier, in an open letter, Frowick called the municipal elections a symbol of continuing hope and palpable progress in the quest to establish genuine democracy in Bosnia-Herzegovina.