Emotions, distance work against Bosnian election Foreigners set rules, prod local officials to use them

September 13, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Prospects for a smooth election tomorrow did not look good yesterday.

Those dim prospects were reflected in the eyes of perplexed refugees jammed together in the rain outside a government building, hoping someone inside could tell them where to vote.

The same was evident in the frustration wrinkling the brows of supervisors for United Nations police monitors who have spent most of the past week planning how to move refugees to voting places.

"The only way we can escape disaster is if my prayers are answered and we have enough bad weather to keep people at home," one monitor said.

Of Bosnia's nearly 3 million potential voters, as many as 150,000 are expected to cross former battle lines to vote in the areas from which they were expelled during the war. Perhaps as many as 138,000 more refugees could come from Serbia and Croatia.

The estimates may be daunting, and possibly too high, but officials say these are the numbers being planned for, if indeed preparation is possible.

"What we heard this morning is to get ready for about 1,200 buses coming in from Yugoslavia," a foreign election official said Wednesday, her eyes wide at the prospect. "How do we get ready for that?"

One U.N. official added: "I don't believe there are enough buses with working engines left in this country to do the job."

So far, foreign officials are setting the rules, but trying to make Bosnian officials responsible for carrying them out.

In charge of the election overall is the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. NATO officers say they are deploying troops to monitor the voting, but getting people to the right polling places and making sure that they are not attacked along the way is supposed to be in the hands of local authorities.

"We think that is going to be enough; maybe I should say we hope it is," said an American officer. "We're counting on everyone to act responsibly, and maybe we're counting on too much."

Most of Bosnia is still essentially in three pieces, each controlled by a single ethnic group that wants to keep out refugees from other groups.

It was difficult, foreign diplomats said, to force local officials to plan for refugees to vote in the places from which they were expelled during the war.

With the cancellation of local elections, fewer voters are expected to travel, since they can use absentee ballots in the national election.

This week, Bosnian officials decided on a plan to allow many people to vote in their home counties, without having to actually go to the town or village from which they fled or were driven.

In many places, especially those in areas where emotions are the highest, refugees will vote in ballot booths just inside the boundaries of their county.

An elaborate system is being devised to use buses to pick up refugees in one part of Bosnia and take them to polling places in their own county.

Some highways have been barred to all traffic except buses to be used in transporting voters.

Even if the system works, it will take a long time to vote. A Muslim refugee from Srebrenica, for instance, will have to somehow get to the Muslim town of Kladanj, then wait for a bus ride to the outskirts of Srebrenica, well over an hour away.

The round trip, and the time waiting to vote, will take nearly five hours, according to U.N. officials. Then the voter will have to get home again somehow.

Pub Date: 9/13/96

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