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Mostar on Edge, Mistrustful

Zulfo Djukic Comes Home to Vote

The Mostar Vote MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) ó Zulfo Djukic has traded in the sunny streets of southern California for the bullet-riddled, shell-pocked quarter of his home town, traveling thousands of miles in hopes of casting a vote for peace. Djukic, a 61-year-old car dealer, returned to Mostar this week after decades in the United States. He has found the city on edge, with tension and mistrust clouding the runup to Sundayís municipal balloting.

"Iíve came to participate in the elections, so that my home town returns to what it was before," said Djukic, a Muslim who emigrated in the late 1960s and now owns a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Los Angeles. He refused to say which party would get his vote, since part of his family still lives in the Croat-held western half of the city.

Built on the banks of the Neretva River some 60 miles south of the capital Sarajevo, the once-picturesque medieval town has come to represent in microcosm the conflicts and changes Bosnia has experienced over the last four years. According to the 1991 census, Mostarís population of approximately 126,000 was 34.8 percent Muslim, 33.8 percent Croat and 19 percent Serb. Since many of them are now refugees, polling stations are being set up across Bosnia and in countries including Germany, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland.

According to the EU, only an estimated 30,000-45,000 of Mostarís 100,000 registered voters will be in town on election day.

In April 1992, when Serb forces tried to overrun the town, Muslims and Bosnian Croats joined forces to defend it. Later, however, Bosnian Croat nationalists aimed to make Mostar the capital of their self-proclaimed state, and they tried to take control of the entire town. The struggle for control over territories in southern and central Bosnia exploded in 1993 in war. Croats were left in control of the western half of Mostar, while Muslims remained in the eastern side.

In March 1994, the Muslim-Croat war ended under strong U.S. pressure and the two became partners in a federation. But hard-liners on both sides persisted in pursuing their nationalist agendas. The Dayton peace accord intended the elections in Mostar to reunite the town -- and strengthen the entire federation, serving as a trial run for national elections in September.

But the stark contrast between the shattered, Muslim half and the Croat side, where streets are lined with freshly painted shops and new cafes, underlines the difficulty of putting the city -- and the country -- back together.

"If we are Hiroshima, they are Las Vegas, just a few meters away," said Safet Orucevic, the Muslim mayor of eastern Mostar. Still, the differences between residents may be narrowing. "Those who waged the war cannot make peace now," said Josip Jole Musa, a Bosnian Croat opposition leader. "I think that this town and these people deserve peace."

Musa heads one of the cityís six electoral blocs, which also include the Muslim and Croat parties that rule the federation half of Bosnia. They will compete for various city posts, including seats in the city council -- where 16 places have been allocated for Croats, 16 for Muslims, and 5 for Serbs, according to the cityís prewar population. Orucevic and some other opposition leaders accuse Bosnian Croat nationalists of harassing candidates in hopes of forcing them to pull out of the elections.

"My two sons and I know how to protect ourselves," said Musa, who has received special protection from NATO and EU police forces after getting several telephoned threats. But other candidates are not so confident; four recently quit the race after complaining of harassment.

To learn more...
Berserkistan, June 27 · Sundayís Elections in Mostar: Flawed but Safe, Hopes EU
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 Mostarís 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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