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Balkan Report: September 2, 1998

2 September 1998, Volume 2, Number 35

Bosnian Elections Draw Nearer. Voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina go to the polls on 12 and 13 September to choose from over 6,000 candidates for a host of local, entity, and republican offices. The chief supervisor of the elections is Ambassador Robert L. Barry, the OSCE's Head of Mission. The OSCE's job is to make sure that the ballot is free and fair, and in keeping with the rules that the OSCE has drawn up "in Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian and English."

Barry told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service last week that preparations are proceeding well and on schedule. He noted that the number of registered voters is up from the number of those on the rolls in 1996, and that polls show that confidence that the vote will be free and fair is rising, particularly among Muslims. Barry ultimately hopes for a good turnout and that the voters will cast their ballots on the basis of a party's platform, not because of its ethnicity.

The ambassador conceded that there is a central problem facing the ballot, namely that many people suspect that interested persons - traditionally known in the Balkans as "dark forces" - will manipulate their rules or the media for their own purposes. But such views are scarcely new in Bosnia, and the vote will be carried out under more rigorous supervision than before, he added.

Turning to the candidates themselves, Barry pointed out that a small number was disqualified because their registration papers were not in order, or because they or their party engaged in behavior in violation of the election rules. He added that over 6,000 candidates have made their financial and property disclosures, but that the OSCE does not have the resources to check each statement. Barry said that interested individuals and parties can nonetheless examine and try to verify the politicians' declarations themselves.

The Mystery of the Mass Graves. On August 24, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" suggested that a correspondent for two other large German-language dailies had unwittingly allowed himself to be duped by Serbian intelligence services into falsely reporting that two large mass graves of Kosovar civilians exist near Rahovec (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," August 12, 1998). The Serbian service's alleged goal was to discredit the veteran journalist and to provide grist for the Serbian propaganda mills' frequent assertion that there is a "German conspiracy against the Serbs."

It remains to be seen whether the "Frankfurter" has a point, or whether its bite stems rather from normal professional rivalry among journalists. Until the Serbian authorities allow an international team of independent forensics experts to inspect the region, the world is unlikely to know the truth.

Demaci: Taking Our Future in Our Own Hands. Adem Demaci, who is a veteran dissident and now the political spokesman of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) , recently told RFE/RL's South Slavic Service that the 30,000 armed fighters are united around a collective leadership. He called it a "modern army" because it is highly motivated, not linked to any ideology, and dedicated to defending the "freedom, democracy and equality" of the Kosovars. Demaci charged that those ethnic Albanians who do not support the UCK are committing a "serious crime" against their own people.

The man long known as "the Kosovar Mandela" charged that the Serbs are responsible for the current armed conflict. He added, however, that neither side, "especially the Serbs," can expect to win militarily. The Serbian offensive serves only to provide more recruits for the guerrillas. Demaci is proud of his role as the UCK's representative and stressed that his "mandate comes from those who are paying the price by standing up for what is right and even offering their lives for freedom."

But what of negotiations? Demaci said he is willing to talk with any Serbs who want to hammer out a "real solution" to the Kosovar question. He argued, however, that there "is nothing for me" at any talks with the official Serbian delegation. That team, he charged, seeks only to negotiate "how the Kosovars will capitulate." Demaci added that he similarly has no interest in being a part of the moderate Kosovar negotiating team led by shadow-state President "Ibrahim Rugova, Fehmi Agani and the rest."

In the meantime, Demaci warned the international community that it will get nowhere by continuing "to help the wrong people," by which he presumably the shadow state. He stressed that the "real Kosovars" are now determined to take their future into their own hands on the basis of the September 1991 referendum for independence and not depend of the goodwill of somebody in Belgrade.

RFE/RL Affiliate in Croatia. Radio Vukovar recently became RFE/RL's first affiliate in Croatia. It will rebroadcast four hours of South Slavic programming daily. Radio Network 27 in Bosnia-Herzegovina is now up to 29 affiliates. And Radio 021 in Novi Sad became the newest affiliate in Serbia.

Hot Potatoes. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on August 26 that Italian customs police in Ancona made an interesting find that day. A ferry arrived from Split, and among the vehicles on board was a truck driven by a Croatian citizen. Its cargo was marked "potatoes." Upon closer inspection, the Italians discovered that the "potatoes" were really 50 weapons, including automatic rifles and grenade launchers. In addition were 60 boxes of different sizes of ammunition plus hand grenades. The driver was about to transfer the truck to another ferry - bound for Durres.

Quote of the Week. Serbian Judge Danica Marinkovic, in response to charges by ethnic Albanians that Kosovars are beaten and killed in prison and that she is part of a campaign to intimidate defense lawyers: "Some people, after they are released following their jail term, come and thank me and say hello to me in the street. When they go abroad, they send me postcards and greetings." Quoted in the "Financial Times," August 27, 1998.