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Muslims Lose Srebrenica Again _ This Time At The Ballot Box

September 14, 1996

PODRAVNO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A year ago, Muslims lost Srebrenica to Serb military conquest. On Saturday, they lost it again _ this time at the ballot box.

Fearing the worst if Muslims who survived the conquest of Srebrenica went home to vote, international election officials decided they should cast ballots in the Serb village of Podravno, 12 miles to the south.

But there was no place to vote. The village, devastated by Muslims in 1992, is nothing but a deserted jumble of wrecked houses.

That left some Srebrenica Muslims wanting to vote but not knowing where. Some tried to cast ballots elsewhere, but found no one to take them.

Still others, furious at being kept away from their town, boycotted the vote. Others stayed away out of fear.

In the end, only a handful of the 16,000 survivors expelled by the Serbs and entitled to vote nearby used that right Saturday.

After three years of siege, Srebrenica’s Muslims lost their town in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces overran what had been a U.N.-designated ``safe area.″

The International Committee of the Red Cross estimates between 5,000 and 7,000 Muslims, mostly men, are missing from the Srebrenica area. Mass graves and survivors’ accounts support Muslim claims that thousands were slaughtered as they tried to flee.

The internationally devised rules for Saturday’s vote allowed Serbs, Muslims and Croats to cross into territory held by rival ethnic groups and vote in hometowns they were driven out of.

But international organizers effectively put Srebrenica off-limits to Muslim voters out of fears of a new confrontation.

The Muslims’ ruling Party of Democratic Action and the influential Women of Srebrenica group called on survivors to boycott the voting in protest. Many obeyed the call _ some for their own reasons.

``I can’t go back,″ said Senada Hukic, a 23-year-old widow, as she nuzzled the cheek of her 16-month-old son, Samir. ``Who would take care of my child if something happened to me?″

Mrs. Hukic said her husband, two brothers, an uncle and a nephew were massacred in Srebrenica.

As she spoke, a young man passed by.

``Daddy, daddy,″ Samir said.

``You don’t have a daddy,″ his mother whispered.

Nevertheless, Srebrenica polling stations were busy Saturday with Serb voters.

``We have accomplished a lot with guns. The rest we’ll do at the ballot box,″ declared Bojan Koltanevic, waiting with fellow Serbs to vote. ``We are voting for a separate country here, without Croats or Muslims.″

Back in Podravno, Tihomir Ristivojevic, a Serb who fled the village in 1992, took advantage of the freedom of movement to visit the ruins of his former home.

He was asked where Muslims were voting.

``Them vote? Here?″ he hooted. ``First they wreck my home and then they come back to vote? I don’t think so!″

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