Municipal voting put off in Bosnia Serbs to go ahead

Monitors suspicious of ethnic manipulation

other polls to go on

August 28, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Conceding that "widespread abuse" has damaged the run-up to Bosnia's first postwar election, the U.S. diplomat in charge of the vote called off municipal balloting yesterday and raised the possibility of an extended stay for NATO peacekeeping troops.

Bosnian Serb leaders, who were most keen on elections and who were accused of the most egregious abuses, blasted the delay as a "shameful act" and vowed to hold their own municipal contests.

Ambassador Robert Frowick, who heads the international mission charged with supervising the elections, ordered postponement of voting in 109 municipalities in response to efforts by the Bosnian Serbs to create Serb majorities fraudulently in cities they seized during the war and emptied of Muslims through massacre and intimidation.

National elections to choose a three-headed presidency and parallel parliamentary bodies -- a cornerstone of the U.S.-brokered peace agreement that ended the war last December -- will take place on schedule Sept. 14, Frowick said.

U.S. officials in Washington -- who had insisted that elections go ahead despite extensive reports of coercion, harassment and a generally hostile and undemocratic climate -- supported Frowick's decision but not his timetable, which could put off municipal voting until next spring.

Frowick and other officials said they could separate municipal voting from the other races because the effect of bad-faith registrations would be diluted in the larger, nationwide voting pool.

Still, the decision raises questions about the entire electoral process, analysts said, and unleashes a host of unknowns over who will organize, supervise and provide security for a rescheduled vote.

The mandate governing most of the international bodies involved in the September election expires soon thereafter; NATO's mission is supposed to end Dec. 20. To Washington's chagrin, Frowick said in a news conference that he believed "some kind of international military force" must remain for the later election, which he thought could not be held until April or May.

Extending an international presence that far into next year alarmed Clinton administration officials, who have promised the public that American troops will leave Bosnia by year's end. Frowick, speaking later in the day after he clearly had been called by Washington, said he had changed his mind and thought the new election could be held sooner.

One senior U.S. official in Washington said it could happen as early as December -- despite Bosnian winters so harsh they even stymied NATO last December. Triggering the controversy was a peculiar election rule that let Bosnian voters cast ballots in cities where they "intended" to live. It was aimed at giving the displaced a chance to vote; in fact, Bosnian Serbs used it to formalize gains made by ethnic expulsions.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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