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Serb Votes With Former Enemies, But Feels Hope is Gone

September 16, 1996

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Mile Marceta committed a small act of courage during Bosnia’s elections: He went home to vote.

The 50-year-old merchant led 190 fellow Serbs across a former front line and into Muslim-Croat territory, returning to his hometown of Drvar for the first national election since the end of the 3 1/2-year war.

Votes are still being counted, but Marceta already believes much has been lost.

``It seems only Americans and idiots like me still believe Bosnia can be a civilized country and people can return to their former homes one day,″ Marceta said, referring to the brokers of the Dayton peace accord that ended the war.

Marceta and other refugees did not have to go home _ often crossing enemy lines _ to vote. Under the election rules, they could have voted via absentee ballot.

Bosnian Serb leaders had pressured refugees such as Marceta to vote in the Serb half of the country, in an effort to bolster their case for independence by having an overwhelming turnout in areas they control.

Marceta was one of only 4,000 Serbs who crossed lines to cast ballots with former enemies this weekend, defying that pressure.

Only about 13,500 of the estimated 60,000 Muslim refugees expected to cross former front lines returned to vote, as fear forced many to accept the ethnic divisions the elections were supposed to overcome.

``The elections have proved that the ethnic boundary is there to stay,″ he said. ``Otherwise, why would people be afraid to vote together with their former neighbors?″

The reluctance of refugees to cross lines represent a major victory for nationalists, who say the voting patterns prove their argument that Serbs, Muslims and Croats don’t want ever to live together again in a united Bosnia.

The peace accord divided Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat half and a Serb half, and the elections were meant to meld both under one government, ensuring that the Serbs fail to achieve their wartime goal of an independent state.

Yet voting had its risks. U.N. police and British troops from the NATO-led peace force provided security, making it possible for the Serb refugees to vote in the town in northwestern Bosnia. Most refugees were returning home for the first time.

Drvar’s current authorities ``treated us like rare animals, deploying a cordon of policemen between us and the locals,″ Marceta said.

Marceta has already paid for his views. He and some 2,000 others in Banja Luka, the biggest Serb-held city in Bosnia, have lost refugee status, free food and accommodation because they have declared that they want to go home some day.

``If Americans still believe in Dayton, they should help the return of the refugees from all sides.″ he said. ``If they don’t help, people will take guns and force their way back.″

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