Sunday’s Mostar Elections:
Flawed but Safe, Hopes EU
2,500 French troops will be on hand to help in emergencies
MOSTAR, Bosnia, June 27 (Reuters) - The European Union, aware that conditions for free elections in the divided Bosnian city Mostar on Sunday will be seriously flawed, hopes at least to ensure an orderly vote with the help of NATO troops.
Under the Dayton peace treaty, the voting for a single city council and mayor in southern Bosnia's largest city will presage countrywide voting in September intended to reintegrate Serb-, Croat- and Muslim-dominated ethnic entities. But Croats running west Mostar expect the vote to ratify their goal of separation and accession to nearby Croatia.
Muslims holding the east on behalf of Bosnia's central government want to reunify Mostar but growing Islamic fervour only feeds the Croats' opposing agenda, some analysts say. "These elections will not be perfect, but they are going to be the first step towards normalisation of political and social life in the city," said Ricardo Perez Casado, head of the temporary postwar EU administration in Mostar.
The fundamental challenge for the Spanish diplomat and his EUAM mandate will be securing sufficient freedom of movement for all who want to take part in the first, albeit local, elections in Bosnia since the 1995 end of ethnic war. At the moment, there is none. The two communities, Croats and Muslims, live utterly separated. Only elderly people dare cross invisible urban lines -- now that the checkpoints have been removed, only flags and car plates tell you in "whose" part of town you are.
Responsibility for providing security is shared between the NATO-led peace force in Bosnia and no less than six different police forces -- two local ones, Croatian and Muslim-Croat federal contingents, and the two international task forces. The Western European Union police have worked out a complex scheme with patrols, armed escorts and emergency squads to coordinate those disparate forces.
How those precisely defined procedures will function if angry mobs start stoning buses or old-friends-turned-enemies recognise each other when casting ballots remains to be seen. The issue is of huge importance since Mostarians must vote in precincts where they lived before the war, meaning many -- especially Muslims -- will have to cross ethnic boundaries.
General Xavier Lambert, NATO's French commander in the southwest Bosnian region, will have 2,500 troops at hand to help in emergencies. They would act at Casado's request. Otherwise, he said, his troops will maintain a "discreet" presence to avoid turning Mostar back into a "fortified camp."
Casado's spokesman Dragan Gasic said the EUAM expected at least 14 busloads of refugee voters to come from abroad but not one from Belgrade or Serb-held Bosnia, where the majority of Serbs who had fled Mostar in 1992 now reside. Gasic said there had been no request for help from the Serb side. But the possible abstention from voting of the Serbs, who comprised a fifth of the prewar 75,000 population, would mean yet another step towards cementing the partition of Bosnia set in motion by war and systematic ethnic expulsions.
"Everything is working normally," declared Casado at a news conference on Wednesday. His description seemed kind.
There is little, if any, campaigning in the local media, virtually no public rallies and very few posters on the walls. None of the six different parties or coalitions have a concrete Western-style platform to inform voters. An independent candidate explained his engagement in terms of being "fed up with the single-mindedness of political life" in a city dominated by the two main ethnic parties -- the Croat HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) and the Muslim SDA (Party of Democratic Action).
"I wanted to offer an alternative," said Jole Musa, the Croat leader of the List of Citizens for a Unified Mostar, without specifying what the alternative consisted of. A Croat voter who spoke on condition of anonymity said he would vote for HDZ despite all the drawbacks of their rule -- poverty, unemployment, gangsterism, insecurity and corruption.
"It is better to deal with the devil you know," the former soldier said, summing up the views of many.
Berserkistan, June 27 · Returning Refugee Finds Mostar On Edge
Berserkistan, June 25 · Mostar Elections: Dry Run for Bosnian Democracy
Berserkistan, June 24 · Bosnian Croats Expect Elections to Cement Mostar Divisions
Berserkistan, June 23 · Banking on Mostar’s Elections to Lead the Reunification of Bosnia
Berserkistan, June 21 · Rampant Nationalism in Mostar Elections May Deepen Division
Berserkistan · Mostar, A Tale of Two Cities by Jim Bartlett
Berserkistan · For Peace in Mostar, Follow the Money Trail to Croatia
Mostar: Before and After its Devastation A site by Dubravko Kakarigi
Benvenuti in Guerra Gavino Paddeu chronicles Mostar's fall
Building in a War Zone European Union Helps to Reconstruct Mostar
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