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Bosnia Tense But Mostly Tranquil During Post-War Vote

September 14, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Across a ruined land where the guns of war fell silent only months ago, Bosnians voted Saturday in imperfect elections likely to confirm the supremacy of leaders who brought the bloodshed.

But the foreign mediators who conceived and organized the vote hailed the mere fact of a peaceful ballot as a triumph, hoping it signaled the start of a long reconciliation between Muslim, Serb and Croat after 3 1/2 years of war.

``Perhaps we are seeing democracy being born, and that must be good news,″ said Britain’s Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, ground commander of the NATO-led peace force.

Only minor glitches were reported. But far fewer Muslims and Croats crossed into Serb-held areas to vote than organizers had forecast. That suggested many Bosnians had accepted on a personal level the ethnic divisions the election was held to prevent.

In Sarajevo and Tuzla, some polling stations closed temporarily because of confusion over registration lists. They were to remain open three hours past the 7 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) voting deadline, as would one polling station in each municipality, election officials said.

Results were not expected before Sunday night and the final outcome may not be decided for days.

But few doubt that Muslim, Serb and Croat parties in power throughout the war will win Saturday’s vote. Foreigners and some Bosnians hope moderate opposition groups will gain enough of a foothold to make reconciliation a reality some day.

Turnout appeared brisk. The Yugoslav news agency reported 50 percent turnout by noon in Serb-held eastern Bosnia. More than 80 percent of the hundreds of thousands eligible voters living in exile abroad cast ballots, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized the vote.

Voters were choosing regional and national governments in each of the two halves of Bosnia: Muslim-Croat and Serb. They also were voting for the loose national institutions envisaged under the Dayton peace accords: a three-person presidency and a legislature.

Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader forced out because he has been indicted for war crimes, voted quietly in his base of Pale, outside Sarajevo, an aide said.

While many Serbs and Croats still prefer secession, there seemed to be a widespread feeling that the elections _ however flawed _ represented the only way forward.

``If this vote doesn’t work, then Dayton will collapse and I think we’ll be at war again,″ said Miralem Hadzimujic, 20, a Muslim voting at a warehouse just outside Serb-held Teslic in northern Bosnia. ``All we want is to vote, for there to be peace, and to go home.″

He was among those who did venture into territory held by foes to vote. Temporary booths were set up outside towns to prevent violence between former adversaries.

The OSCE had estimated that up to 60,000 people would cross from the Muslim-Croat half of Bosnia to Serb territory to cast ballots. Far fewer apparently did, although no one had exact figures.

The low number of crossovers suggested that _ for now, at least _ Bosnians have accepted divisions wrought by war.

Only two of 202 buses laid on to take Muslims to Vlasenica and Srebrenica in Serb-held eastern Bosnia were needed, said Jeff Fischer of the OSCE.

In northwestern Bosnia, site of some of the worst Serb atrocities against Muslims and Croats in 1992, the OSCE had estimated 7,000 voters might go to Serb-held Prijedor. Eight hours into voting, only 250 had done so.

Last month’s cancellation of municipal elections because of evidence of fraud and other abuses may have discouraged cross-boundary traffic.

``When they delayed municipal elections, they removed the incentive for people to cross over,″ said Lt. Col. Tony Cucolo, commander of Camp McGovern, a U.S. base outside the hotly disputed Serb-held town of Brcko.

Charlie Hayes, a New York City policeman serving with U.N. police, wasn’t expecting any Muslim voters in his base of Zvornik, one of the first towns where Serbs expelled Muslims in 1992.

``That’s not the plan, there’s no reason for it, from a personal safety point of view,″ Hayes said.

Organizers will first count votes for the three-member presidency. Then they will try to arrange for the newly elected Muslim, Serb and Croat presidency members to meet as soon as possible, probably at the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.

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