DESPERATE to save the Bosnian peace process, Western...

June 04, 1996

DESPERATE to save the Bosnian peace process, Western powers are putting enormous emphasis on elections due to take place by mid-September. The results could lack credibility and even add to ethnic tensions. But the U.S. and its allies fear that if the election is postponed, international intervention in the Balkans will fail.

In meetings this past weekend with Serb, Croat and Muslim leaders, Secretary of State Warren Christopher was reduced to frustration and fulmination. He reiterated demands for the arrest of accused Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, but said the election would go on even if they are still at liberty. He gave the go-ahead for "proactive" steps by NATO troops to arrest these two leaders, but little was expected of this unless they blundered into allied hands. He got all factions to sign on to a document pledging good-faith efforts to hold elections, but on the ground in Bosnia obstruction is the order of the day.

Symbolic of the difficulties ahead is the almost complete failure of efforts to institute freedom of movement among the warring ethnic populations. This is important because under last year's Dayton accords, voters are supposed to cast their ballots where they were living before war erupted. Muslim leaders denounce suggestions that citizens vote where they now reside, saying this would legitimize "ethnic cleansing."

In the preoccupation with election modalities, little attention is being given to the kinds of leaders likely to be elected. Odds are they will be ultra-nationalists of the type who led Bosnia into civil war in the first place.

Why, then, the stress on elections? Some of the answers lie far from Bosnia. NATO, now trying to reinvent itself, needs a Balkans success to prove its relevance to the post-Cold War situation. The United Nations considers the bringing of Bosnian war criminals to justice a prerequisite to an international system of law. For President Clinton, having taken a setback in Israel and facing uncertainty in Russia, even a marred election would be a necessary prerequisite to any move to extend the mid-December deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Balkans.

Americans can take heart that the military phase of the Bosnian operation has run so effectively, with so few casualties. But more difficult tasks lie ahead.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

Elections and war criminals; Bosnia: Western allies hold to peace process despite huge difficulties.

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