Refugees Voting Separately to Avoid Ethnic Clashes
Sep. 13, 1996
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ No matter who wins Saturday's elections, Hasiba Hadzic will be a disappointed woman.
When the 37-year-old Muslim refugee from Vlasenica decided to vote in her hometown, her main motivation was to sneak a glimpse of the home she fled four years ago before advancing Serbs.
But she, like thousands of mainly Muslim refugees planning to cross former confrontation lines to vote, won't get that chance.
Hadzic will be bused to cast her ballot at a polling station outside Vlasenica and then be bused immediately out again _ all in the interests of keeping the peace on election day.
``I want to vote there, I haven't seen home since spring, 1992,'' she said. ``I'd like to vote in Vlasenica for Vlasenica.''
But Muslim refugees from that town, 60 miles northeast of Sarajevo, must vote in the outlying village of Grasevac. Those from eastern Srebrenica will cast ballots in the tiny nest of Poravanja. In northern Doboj, six polling places have been selected on the town's outskirts close to the front lines.
Refugees had the option of voting in their prewar homes _ in person or by absentee ballot. They can also vote in person where they now live or where they would like to live in the future.
An estimated 1,100 buses organized by the Muslim-led Bosnian government are to carry voters along 19 specified routes from the Muslim-Croat half of Bosnia. Then, once in Serb territory, local police will escort them directly to the polling stations.
``This is for security reasons,'' Gen. Ilarione Ciardi, Tuzla director for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, organizers of Saturday's vote. ``There can be no visits to homes, because otherwise no security guarantees can be given.''
In Doboj, a road leading from the former battle line to one of the polling places has been lined with barbed wire near former Muslim homes.
Ciardi and other election officials said they doubted local Serbs would vote at the stations designated for Muslims.
They denied that the procedure effectively meant Saturday's would be an ``apartheid'' vote.
``There is definitely no apartheid intent here,'' said election spokeswoman Agi Kuperman. ``The intent was merely to allow people to vote as close to the (confrontation) line as possible.''
Privately, election and U.N. aid officials acknowledged the procedure went against freedom of movement, a key principle of Bosnia's peace accords. But they said voter segregation was preferable to risking violent clashes between former neighbors who blame each other for 3 1/2 years of war and suffering.
Munira Hadzic, of Srebrenica Women's Association, said she was disgusted to learn that the polling place for Srebrenica refugees was in Poravanja.
That village is nearly 18 miles outside Srebrenica, which became a symbol of Muslim resistance before finally succumbing to a brutal Serb siege in July 1995.
``From there, there's no chance we can see Srebrenica,'' she said. ``This is not just disappointing, it's humiliating.''