UN sends Bosnia 'free and fair' election warning

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The Independent Online
The UN warned yesterday of "dire consequences" for forthcoming elections in Bosnia if election guidelines agreed by Bosnia's interior ministers are not followed. The Sarajevo spokesman, Alex Ivanko, detailed two cases of serious intimidation and harassment which, if not put right, could mean the 14 September elections would not be considered "free and fair".

Many commentators in Sarajevo believe the elections ought to be postponed, and that the US government is bulldozing ahead with them for its own political purposes.

If they were postponed, the peace implementation force, I-For, could not start withdrawing, as planned, on 20 December. This would prejudice President Bill Clinton's chances in the American elections in November.

Mr Ivanko said he was "very concerned" by the systematic intimidation of voters and candidates in the mainly Muslim Bihac area, in the north- west, where hand grenades had been thrown at the houses of local opposition party members. He had received allegations that local police were involved in intimidating the opposition. The ruling party in the area is the hard- line Muslim SDA. The region earlier was the scene of fierce fighting between the Bosnian Muslim government and breakaway Muslims led by a renegade businessman, Fikret Abdic. People perceived to be Abdic supporters have been intimidated, as have supporters of other opposition parties.

The other area where Mr Ivanko warned "free and fair" elections appear impossible is Teslic, 30 miles east of Banja Luka in the Serb-controlled entity of Bosnia, known as Republika Srpska. Here, the ruling party is the SDS, the extreme nationalists Serbian party, to which the indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic belongs.

Mr Ivanko said a factory owner had been forced out of his job and other supporters of the opposition Socialist party had been harassed, as had members of the Democratic Patriotic Bloc, the more moderate Serbian party. There had also been reports of unauthorised "special police" forces appearing in the Serbian areas, which did not appear to report to any recognised authority.

Mr Ivanko said the UN was investigating. However, the US seems determined to push ahead with the elections.

If no gross interference can be proved, the election results will stand.