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First national post-war elections under way in Bosnia


Bosnian party claims irregularities

September 14, 1996
Web posted at: 2:50 p.m. EDT (1850 GMT)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Under the watchful eyes of heavily armed NATO troops, Serbs, Muslims and Croats made their way to polling places across Bosnia Saturday to vote in that country's first post-war national elections.

The elections, mandated by the Dayton peace accords, could determine the shape of Bosnia for the future -- whether the country remains reunified under the terms of the accords, or whether the de facto partition that has divided the country since the accords were signed is reinforced.

About 3 million people are eligible to vote for a collective three-member presidency -- one Serb, one Croat and one Muslim. Voters will also elect a joint parliament, separate assemblies for the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic and regional governments.

But Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic cautioned that the heavily criticized elections were not necessarily the final word on the fate of Bosnia.

"We understand that Serbs will be elected who will continue with the same policy to divide Bosnia," he told CNN's Christiane Amanpour, "but we will have them around the table fighting with arguments instead of fighting with guns."

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Ganic acknowledged that the war-torn country was still plagued by problems such as refugees unable to return to their homes and war criminals not yet in custody, but he called the elections "a step forward."

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Results challenged

But the SDA, the political party of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, challenged the results of voting in the Serb-controlled sections of Bosnia.

In a letter to the United Nations, the SDA said election results were invalid in the Serb entity and cited what he called new evidence of technical irregularities.

The party called on the U.N. Security Council to review the matter and it has requested a meeting with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman Flavio Cotti and his representatives in Bosnia, OSCE mission chief Robert Frowick.

Voter turnout was reported light early in the day, but had picked up by mid-day, Amanpour reported from Sarajevo. At some polling places, long lines caused tensions among those waiting to vote, and election officials called NATO troops to temporarily close the polls until calm could be restored.


Officials said however, that everyone would be allowed to vote, and if necessary polls would remain open past their 7 p.m. closing time.

Federation Interior Minister Avdo Hebib told Reuters that a shot had been fired from Serb territory in the direction of a polling station near Sarajevo but there had been no casualties.

Elsewhere, busses carried refugees across the line between the Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat federation to vote. Early Saturday there were reports Serb police had closed some crossing points, but Jeff Fischer of the OSCE said the crossing points were temporarily shut down because of traffic congestion, and quickly reopened.

NATO troops guarded the crossing points between the Serb and Bosnian-Croat entities, watching over the thousands who crossed the borders to vote.


But in many parts of territory that had been "ethnically cleansed" during the long war for control of Bosnia, Muslims appeared reluctant to return to vote, despite elaborate security measures set up by NATO and OSCE. Reuters reported that in Kladanj, where buses were prepared to transport some 8,000 Muslims to the Srebrenica area, only three men arrived to make the trip.

"There are not even eight of us to fill up a single bus," said Mehio Avdagic. "This is a big, big shame."

The story was different in northern Bosnia, however, where thousands of Serbs traveled by bus and train from Yugoslavia to take part in the elections.

"Everyone's going to vote for their own family," said one elderly Serb refugee, in reference to nationalist parties that now represent the war's ethnic factions.

Correspondent Christiane Amanpour, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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Pivotal Elections: Bosnia


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