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In Another Setback, Bosnia Parties Order Election Boycott


SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Troubled efforts to stage Bosnia's first postwar elections suffered another setback Wednesday when leading political parties ordered a boycott to protest registration and campaign abuses.

The move immediately affects absentee balloting by half a million Bosnian refugees that began Wednesday. It follows a decision by international election supervisors, citing the same irregularities, to postpone municipal voting but to go ahead with national contests Sept. 14.

Election preparations were in disarray Wednesday, with Bosnian Serbs threatening to hold their own elections and more than 1,000 candidates facing disqualification because of mistakes or technicalities.

The ruling Muslim party of President Alija Izetbegovic told its followers who were planning to vote absentee to hold off until registration problems are resolved. Izetbegovic's Democratic Action Party, or SDA, said the postponement of municipal races was only a partial solution.

A second party headed by popular former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic joined the boycott call, and other parties seeking offices in the Muslim-Croatian half of Bosnia-Herzegovina expressed varying degrees of protest.

Dismissing the boycott as inadvisable, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is supervising the elections, said the delay in municipal voting sufficiently addressed the irregularities. "We disagree that any party should opt out of the democratic process," the international group said in a statement.

But the parties contend that voter registration manipulated by the Bosnian Serbs to their advantage ought to be annulled altogether. According to OSCE and other international officials, the Bosnian Serbs fraudulently engineered registration to create Serbian majorities in once-Muslim cities that the Serbs seized during the war.

Analysts said the boycott may only be a bargaining ploy by Bosnia's ruling Muslim nationalists, who publicly voice support for the elections but who really would like to see them postponed indefinitely so they can hold on to their de facto power.

"They are genuinely against elections and would like to screw them up, but the Americans are breathing down their necks to get them to cooperate," a senior Western official said. "The SDA currently controls all government organizations and most [municipalities] and can only stand to lose in the elections."

Absentee voting for 503,441 refugees in 55 countries will continue through Tuesday.

Politicians in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, also complained about repeated statements by Bosnian Serb leaders who refer to Republika Srpska--the name the Serbs have given to the territory they control--as a sovereign state and about the repeated use of posters bearing the face of leader Radovan Karadzic at campaign rallies. Karadzic, an indicted war crimes suspect, is barred from a public role in the elections but is frequently invoked by Bosnian Serb candidates.

Rallied by Clinton administration officials who want to see the postponed municipal elections rescheduled as soon as possible, OSCE envoys were to meet today in Vienna to find a way to organize the vote. U.S. officials are pushing for the elections to be held by December, when they have promised that American troops who form part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force here will begin to return home.

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