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Organizers call Bosnia elections a success

Voters entering voting station September 14, 1997
Web posted at: 3:05 p.m. EDT (1905 GMT)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- International organizers declared weekend municipal elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina a success, saying nationalist hard-liners had failed to disrupt the process of democracy spelled out in the Dayton peace accord.

David Foley, spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which organized and monitored the vote, said "nationalists beyond democratic forces" had failed to prevent the vote and that turnout had been high.

"To those who say there is no progress in Bosnia, to those who say that ethnic divisions are as deep as ever, today the people of Bosnia have given their answer; they say think again," Foley said.

But opposition parties and independent media in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo said the vote was a "farce" since it was dominated by Muslim, Serb and Croat nationalists.

Media reports accused Western organizers of striking deals with nationalist parties in order to avoid a boycott.

Vote counting was under way, but results will not be known for several days.

The OSCE said it was generally pleased with how the voting went, despite several irregularities that had to be addressed.

A L S O :

Graphic: Facts and Figures on Bosnia Local Elections

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 Bosansko 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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