Minorities win Bosnia elections, might never get to take office Enforcing municipal vote adds to problems of West

October 10, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

SARAJEVO, Bosnia -- Not a single Muslim is believed to live in the eastern Bosnian city of Srebrenica. Thousands fled, or were killed, when Bosnian Serb gunmen seized the enclave more than two years ago in what human rights officials call Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

But, based on municipal election results released yesterday, Srebrenica has voted for a city council with a Muslim majority.

Victory by Muslim candidates in Srebrenica, and in several other eastern Bosnian municipalities purged violently of non-Serbs, was made possible because refugees were allowed to cast ballots in races in their prewar hometowns.

The results set the stage for one of the most complex and volatile phases in the rebuilding of postwar Bosnia: forming local governments with members of the very ethnic groups that were expelled from cities made ethnically "pure" in the conflict.

The task may prove impossible, international officials say. Resistance from the nationalists who continue to control such towns is fierce.

"Implementation of the election results may not happen at all in the most problematic municipalities," said a senior Western official involved in planning this phase.

One likely scenario, diplomats say, is that city officials will take office "in exile," never able to cross the threshold of city hall.

If successful, however, the seating of mixed city councils would represent an important initial step in reversing the "ethnic cleansing" that drove hundreds of thousands of people from their homes during the 3 1/2 -year war, mediators say.

"If [election results are] implemented, we see a unique opening for returning people home," said Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the United Nations.

"If it remains simply on paper, it will disappoint a lot of people and will be a tragedy for the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Making the election results stick also will require a lengthened presence and enlarged role of NATO-led military peacekeepers, because only armed troops will be able to provide the security necessary for minorities to venture into enemy territory, diplomats say.

The potential new composition of local governments is so sensitive that international election officials are only gradually releasing results of Bosnia's municipal vote, which took place Sept. 13-14.

Thousands of banished Srebrenica residents -- Muslims -- voted by absentee ballot, and a small group was bused symbolically to a makeshift polling station a couple of feet inside the boundary of the Srebrenica municipality.

Serbs who now occupy the city also voted, but they were outnumbered.

According to results released yesterday, 24 of 45 seats were won by a predominantly Muslim political coalition, while the ruling Serbian Democratic Party -- the party of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who has been indicted on war crimes charges by an international tribunal because of what happened in Srebrenica -- took 12.

The right-wing Serbian Radical Party was allotted eight seats, and an independent Muslim running alone took the last seat.

In other Serb-held towns, such as Vlasenica and Bratunac, the Muslim coalition won the single largest number of seats but is outnumbered by any combination of Serb parties. Only in Srebrenica do Muslims have a real majority.

Elsewhere in Bosnia, in the Croat-held city of Drvar that was populated almost exclusively by Serbs until Croat forces drove them into exile, results painted a similar picture.

Serbs who have struggled to be allowed to return home won 19 of 30 City Council seats; the other 11 went to the staunchly nationalist Croat Democratic Union that seized control of the municipality during the war.

Drvar provides a stark example of how implementing the election results may play out: In the two years since thousands of Serbs were "ethnically cleansed" from Drvar, U.N. officials have been able to restore to their homes only seven Serb families.

Pub Date: 10/10/97

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