U.S. tells Bosnians to vote for peace Albright dangles aid to those who back Dayton, warns against repression

August 31, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright waded into Bosnia's crucial national election campaign yesterday, working both overtly and behind the scenes to promote candidates who pledge to rebuild the Balkan nation torn apart by 3 1/2 years of war and divided since by lingering ethnic hatreds.

Although elections have been held in Bosnia since the fighting ended in late 1995, the coming vote -- scheduled for Sept. 13-14 -- will mark the first time that ethnic Croats and Serbs have had a genuine choice between candidates. Moderates who support the peace accords reached in Dayton, Ohio, and the gradual reintegration of the country envisioned in those accords are running against ultranationalists hoping to capitalize on the fear and suspicion that remain powerful forces in the aftermath of the war.

The main party of Bosnia's third minority, its Muslims, has long backed the Dayton process.

For the United States and its major Western allies, the stakes in the elections are high. The results could determine the success of the West's multibillion-dollar effort to re-create the multiethnic nation of Muslims, Serbs and Croats that existed before the fighting.

"The election will be a chance for people here to tell us what kind of country Bosnia should be, not the other way around," Albright told reporters in this one-time stronghold of Serbian arch- nationalists where residents are now said to be leaning toward moderate candidates.

During her tour yesterday, Albright left little doubt that Bosnia will receive continued Western aid only if voters back candidates who support the Dayton peace accords and the democratic, multiethnic society they point toward.

"Whatever the outcome of the vote, we will provide assistance only to those communities that help implement Dayton, by welcoming refugees, by making joint institutions work, by upholding justice and the rule of law," she said.

Albright joined two prominent moderate candidates, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, to formally reopen a power substation refurbished with U.S. aid that provides electricity to more than 100,000 people and to industrial zones in the Bijeljina area.

Albright later went by helicopter to the capital, Sarajevo, where she met with minority Croat refugees. She praised their courage for returning to what is now a Muslim-dominated city, urged them to vote and repeated her message that "communities committed to reconciliation will continue to receive aid and investment."

Albright said the implications of the Bosnian elections could extend beyond Bosnia to the nearby Serbian province of Kosovo, the latest Balkan region to be consumed by ethnic violence.

Albright began the day in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, where she pressed President Franjo Tudjman to accelerate democratic reforms in his country and to stop trying to undermine moderate Croat candidates in the Bosnian elections via his country's national television network -- allegedly run largely from Tudjman's office.

Albright was to meet today with the Muslim member of Bosnia's presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, as well as with senior commanders of the NATO-led peace stabilization force before departing for Moscow, where a U.S.-Russia summit will begin tomorrow.

Pub Date: 8/31/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.