Tue, Oct 03, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Polls highlight sharp split in Bosnia


Bosnians appeared sharply split in key elections on the country's future, with Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats supporting politicians who want to unify the Balkan nation, but Serbs backing a candidate whose party advocates continued ethnic division.

With up to 50 percent of the vote counted in Sunday's complex elections, officials said it appeared that Nebojsa Radmanovic -- whose party chief recently proposed a referendum that would allow Serb territories to secede -- will represent Orthodox Christian Serbs in Bosnia's three-member presidency.

They said his counterparts would be Haris Silajdzic, who won election to the Muslim Bosniak seat, and Ivo Miro Jovic, who was re-elected as the Croat representative. Both would be strong advocates of a united Bosnia.

Further results were to be announced yesterday, the election commission said.

However, the runner-up for the Croat seat, Zeljko Komsic of the multiethnic party of the Social Democrats, said nothing is yet decided since not all votes were yet counted. Jovic led by a narrow margin, with 11.84 percent over Komsic's 11.41 percent. One of the biggest Bosnian cities, Tuzla, which traditionally supports the Social Democrats, has not submitted its count yet.

"Areas we traditionally count on and we have support from have not yet submitted their counts. I expect a lot of more votes," Komsic said.

Sunday's elections were the battle-scarred country's attempt to decide who should lead Bosnia as it tries to free itself from the ethnic divisions that remain from its 1992-95 war and move toward possible EU membership.

Since the end of the war, important decisions have been made by an international administrator. But that office recently announced it will close up shop next year if newly elected leaders find ways to put in place reforms that will bring the country closer to joining the EU.

A final decision on whether to dissolve that international office will be made next February, and will depend on how the new leaders implement reforms required for EU membership.

The election result reflects the deep ethnic divisions that persist more than a decade after fighting that was Europe's worst violence since World War II.

Muslim Bosniaks generally back a united country, as do their Roman Catholic Croat allies. Their ultimate hope is that Bosnia -- divided between a Bosniak-Croat federation and a Serb republic -- will join the EU when its fledgling political and economic reforms are completed.

But many Serbs still cling to beliefs that sparked the war -- namely, that their half of the country can secede and become independent. Since secession is not an option foreseen by the constitution, Serb parties believe that at least the current territorial ethnic-based division must be maintained.

Serbs tend to treat their mini-state as a country as much as they can.

"I will do everything I can to enable Bosnian citizens to live a better life," Silajdzic said, calling the results "an important step toward full democracy."

"We all have to work together to make Bosnia a better place," he said. "We will be negotiating the internal setup of the country until we agree."

He repeatedly claimed that the ethnic-based territorial division of the country has to disappear.

Radmanovic has said that if Silajdzic continues to call for a unified Bosnia "the cooperation will be very hard," since a united Bosnia "cannot happen by all means."

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