Serb Member of Presidency Demurs at Trip to Sarajevo
With Bosnia’s nationalists taking the lion’s share in most executive and parliamentary races, Western officials Wednesday turned to defusing their next crisis: pressuring the Bosnian Serb president-elect to come to Sarajevo.
They failed to persuade Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik to travel to the Bosnian capital to be installed as part of the three-person presidency to which Krajisnik was elected.
The difficulty in a seemingly simple issue like where the collective presidency will meet for the first time underscores the complexity of putting together Bosnia’s new government after 43 months of war and more than 200,000 deaths.
On Wednesday, final results from Saturday’s countrywide elections showed that Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim, received the highest number of votes for the presidency, followed by Krajisnik and Croatian nationalist leader Kresimir Zubak.
Under the U.S.-brokered accord that halted the war in Bosnia, the Serbian member of a newly created three-person presidency is elected by Republika Srpska, the Serbian half of Bosnia; a Muslim and Croat are elected by the other half, the Muslim-Croat federation. The candidate with the most votes becomes chairman of the presidency and represents Bosnia the world over.
Supporters of Izetbegovic’s Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action burst into the streets of Sarajevo, honking car horns and waving green-and-white flags after the 72-year-old president’s victory was announced.
In a news conference Wednesday, Izetbegovic repeated his commitment to reunite Bosnia. Asked if he can work with his enemy Krajisnik, he said: “It seems I will have to.” He added that he was ready to welcome him to the presidency as soon as the Bosnian Serb was ready to swear allegiance to the new constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. “The presidency will be in Sarajevo, and it can only be in Sarajevo,” Izetbegovic said.
But Krajisnik, who openly favors Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia, has different ideas.
Carl Bildt, the senior diplomat in charge of executing the peace accord here, spent two hours with Krajisnik on Wednesday in an unsuccessful effort to persuade him to go to Sarajevo, said an official who was present. Representatives of the Contact Group--the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia--joined in the meeting in Pale, a rural village nine miles southeast of Sarajevo that serves as headquarters for Bosnian Serb hard-liners.
Krajisnik told diplomats that he fears for his safety if he ventures into Sarajevo proper, a city that the Bosnian Serbs laid siege to throughout the war. He instead suggested sites in southern suburbs the Bosnian Serbs still control.
The dispute raises the specter of a crisis, already threatening the validity of the collective presidency whose first meeting is to take place four days after certification of election results, a process that could last a week.
Bildt, speaking to reporters, would only say the issue of the first meeting was still under discussion.
According to other sources, Krajisnik used much of the meeting to draw two diagrams of what the government could look like: One showed a stick-figure house with a line down it--a view favored by the West; the other showed two separate structures with a thin line connecting them at the top--Krajisnik’s vision. He repeatedly assured diplomats that he would work within the presidency and that Serbs would cooperate in a shared 42-member parliament. But, as his drawing indicated, he still advocates autonomy and eventual independence for Republika Srpska, rejecting the reunification elements of the peace accord.
After the meeting, Krajisnik canceled his own news conference.
Reaction to the elections has been generally subdued in Pale. This may reflect the party’s concern that, while taking more than half the vote in most Republika Srpska cities, it was not winning the two-thirds majorities it thinks it needs to control the Serbian delegation to the national parliament.
Both the Serbs and the Muslims have claimed that there were irregularities in the voting and the subsequent count. The margin between Izetbegovic’s and Krajisnik’s totals was only about 40,000 votes, just under 4% of the 1.023 million presidential ballots cast in Republika Srpska, international monitors said.
They also reported that 3.7% of the 1.296 million votes cast for president in the Muslim-Croat federation were invalid or spoiled; 7% were spoiled in Republika Srpska. The reasons were under investigation, election officials said.
Krajisnik was denied a larger total that would have surpassed Izetbegovic’s because of a surprisingly strong showing by Mladen Ivanic of a socialist-led coalition with strong backing from Slobodan Milosevic, president of neighboring Serbia.
In other races, hard-line nationalist Biljana Plavsic was winning her bid for the presidency of Republika Srpska and nationalist parties were gaining majorities in ethnic delegations to a joint parliament and in separate legislatures for each half of Bosnia.
In Washington, Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who telephoned to congratulate Izetbegovic, acknowledged that the single multiethnic state envisioned in the peace plan is not a priority of any of the major winners, saying: “Of course these results reflect the divisions that continue to exist within the Bosnian society. These divisions will not be overcome overnight.”
Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.