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Heavy turnout, few problems in Bosnia balloting

Polling station

Polls open Sunday for 2nd day of voting

September 13, 1997
Web posted at: 8:23 p.m. EDT (0023 GMT)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- After a busy but calm first day of voting, polls will open for a second day Sunday in Bosnia-Herzegovina's first local elections since the end of the country's ethnically charged civil war.

Heavy turnout was reported during Saturday's voting, but there was little violence and few complaints about balloting irregularities.

Hours before polling stations opened, an explosion shattered windows in the offices of the main Croat nationalist party in downtown Sarajevo, but here were no injuries.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized the election, briefly shut down one polling station in the city of Brcko because of problems with the list of voters. But overall, international observers reported few problems.

A L S O :

Graphic: Facts and Figures on Bosnia Local Elections

"Everything seems to be taking its course," said the OSCE spokeswoman Betty Dawson.

Under election rules, people who had been displaced during the war were allowed to vote in their old hometowns. There were isolated reports of harassment of some of these refugee voters, and some gave up and went home after queuing for hours in scorching heat.

20,000 candidates running

About 2.5 million people were registered to vote for the 136 municipal and district councils at stake in the country's two autonomous territories -- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian-Serb republic. About 20,000 candidates were competing for 4,830 seats.

Although 91 political parties were registered, three nationalist parties representing the Muslim, Croat and Serb communities were expected to dominate -- the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Serb Democratic Party (SDS).


Most voters were expected to cast their ballots along ethnic lines, and political parties were able to estimate election results simply by identifying Croat, Serb and Muslim names on the registration lists.

Results could overturn strict ethnic divisions

Experts said hard-liners were afraid they might lose some of the territories captured in the war because of the procedure allowing voting by refugees where they used to live. Some 400,000 people cast absentee ballots, and about 35,000 others were expected to actually cross into opposition areas to vote.

Some election observers predicted the Croat nationalists could lose in Drvar, Glamoc and Bosanko Grahovo -- towns along the country's western border with Croatia. They were predominantly Serb before the war but were captured by Croat troops at the end of the Bosnian conflict.

Nationalist hard-liners in the Serb Democratic Party could be defeated in some eastern towns, including Srebrenica, which fell to Serb forces amid a suspected massacre of thousands of Muslim men in the war's worst atrocity.

The Muslim Party of Democratic Action and allied parties, which represent the largest ethnic community, were well placed to make inroads into territory that was "ethnically cleansed" during the war.

At Issue:
Local and district administrations in Bosnia-Herzegovina play a vital role in implementing the 1995 Dayton peace accord that ended the Balkan war. Police, for instance, help guarantee freedom of movement so there can be interethnic contact among citizens. Observers fear if the elections fail, ethnic tensions could flare up again and escalate into renewed fighting.

"I am going to cast a ballot so that I can return home," one voter explained en route to his former village, now controlled by a rival ethnic government. "The war is over, and this voting is the only way we can fight to go home."

Future of Dayton accord hangs in the balance

The NATO-led international stabilization force, known as SFOR, maintained a heavy presence and vowed to take "firm action" against anyone who tried to disrupt the vote.

International envoys say the elections are key to furthering the 1995 U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accord, which was designed to help rebuild the country's multiethnic character after the devastating 3 1/2-year war.

Under the agreement, Bosnia-Herzegovina is made up of the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation. There is a multiethnic collective presidency, but much administrative power lies with local authorities.

Explosions precede voting

Despite the democratic election, there were some unmistaken signs of the region's ethnic tensions.

An explosion rocked Sarajevo only hours before polling started. The blast shattered windows in the offices of the Croatian Democratic Union. International police reported two other explosions elsewhere overnight.

Western officials also said Croat officials failed to show up to open polling stations in the central town of Zepce, where Croat nationalists were facing possible defeat, because of a large Muslim refugee vote.

On the eve of the balloting, international mediators were negotiating last-minute deals to avoid having to postpone voting in the divided town of Mostar and in the strategic northern town of Brcko.

Correspondent Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.


Related stories:

Related sites:

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  • NATO - official site
    • Operations IFOR & SFOR provides information relating to NATO's role in bringing peace in the Former Yugoslavia
  • OSCE: Mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina - providing information about the OSCE's activities, particularly as they relate to the elections scheduled for September 14, and to assist refugees to vote
  • Croatia/Bosnia-Herzegovina - from CARE
  • BosniaLINK - the official Department of Defense information system about U.S. military activities in Operation JOINT GUARD, the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia

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