Countdown in Bosnia: Sept. 14 elections: U.S. intervention has stopped civil war but not ethnic animosities.

August 15, 1996

SECRETARY OF STATE Warren Christopher flies into Bosnia today for one last inspection visit before Sept. 14 elections that are designed to promote a multi-ethnic state but may produce just the opposite. In balloting for a three-party presidency and a national legislature, Serbs, Croats and Muslims are expected to vote their tribal allegiance and thus confirm the de facto partition that has resulted from years of civil war.

American-brokered peace accords signed in Dayton last fall and enforced by 60,000 troops, mostly from NATO, have been successful in stopping military action by all three sides. But on a personal level, and sometimes a mob level, ethnic animosities fester and harassment of whatever happens to be a minority group in any given locale continues unabated.

Washington officials are already lowering expectations about how much can be expected in such circumstances. Fraud, intimidation, controlled media, attempts to stop refugees from returning to their home precincts, even new outbreaks of violence -- all these could mar the Dayton Accord's call for a fair and free election. Nevertheless, the Clinton administration is determined to proceed because any cancellation or delay would be a blow to U.S. prestige.

It took huge exertions of U.S. pressure on the Croats and the Muslims, supposedly allies in a federation allocated 51 percent of Bosnia territory, just to get them to agree to a joint governance arrangement in the city of Mostar. And even if this federation holds, the rival autonomous Serb republic given 49 percent of the Bosnian land mass will remain unruly, expansionist and loyal to leaders who are indicted international war criminals.

Mr. Christopher stopped in Geneva earlier this week to deal with Serb defiance of Dayton-mandated military inspections and with flaring threats to American forces by foreign Islamic soldiers still present in defiance of Dayton. He topped off his visit by getting the presidents of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia to sign a pledge to protect the voting rights of all citizens during the election. To assign much value to such vows would require quite a leap of faith.

What remain murky but momentous are the timetable for the withdrawal of 20,000 U.S. troops, the follow-on efforts by NATO to prevent a return of all-out warfare and prosecutions, if any, of leading accused war criminals. Each of these matters could have long-range impact on the future of the Atlantic Alliance and the capability of the international community to take action to quell Bosnia-style regional conflicts, wherever they may erupt.

Pub Date: 8/15/96

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