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Threat Heightens Prior to Bosnia Elections

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ASPEN, COLO., Aug. 21, 1996 – Recent reports of suspicious surveillance and turbulent pre-election activities have heightened the threat level in Bosnia, according to Defense Secretary William Perry.

Even though implementation force troops have remained on high alert since the mission began last December, commanders are taking added precautions, Perry said during an interview here Aug. 13, prior to attending a conference at the Aspen Institute.

The threat of terrorist actions was considered high from the very beginning, and forces were positioned accordingly, Perry said. DoD officials imposed stringent rules and security procedures reflecting their concern, he said.

"What we've had in the last week is a surveillance of a few IFOR installations, which just puts a sharper focus on that concern," he said.

Aside from the reported surveillance, Perry said, defense officials were already preparing for increased turmoil prior to the Sept. 14 elections. People are being allowed to vote in the place where they used to live, which may now be part of a different political entity. Refugees are trying to resettle in areas where others are already living, and people are registering to vote where others don't want them to vote, he said.

"Trying to get stable, secure governments installed in a country that has not had any stability or any security for almost four years now is very difficult," Perry said. "We expect our forces are going to be faced with difficult situations."

IFOR's involvement with the elections will unfold on a week-to-week basis, according to the defense secretary. The overall responsibility is to maintain freedom of movement and provide a secure environment, he said.

"That requirement alone is going to have them involved in an intimate way with the success of the elections," he said. "Even though a task is not spelled out as related to the election, the task of providing a secure environment will be indirectly related to the election. It will become harder to execute as you get closer to the elections."

According to British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, commander of NATO land forces in Bosnia, conducting elections in Bosnia will take the combined efforts of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the implementation force.

The international organizations will help ensure people are allowed to go back to where they wish to vote, Walker said. In addition to providing a secure environment, IFOR troops may help deliver ballot boxes, voting lists and other documents to about 4,000 polling stations, he said.

What happens during the weeks prior to the elections will affect NATO's future role in Bosnia, according to Perry. NATO ministers are scheduled to meet the third week in September to discuss a number of complex issues, including NATO's command structure, NATO expansion and what happens to IFOR after Dec. 20.

"The specific question we'll be discussing is, should NATO take additional security responsibilities in Bosnia after the IFOR mission concludes," Perry said. "How that discussion goes will be influenced to a great extent by what happens between now and the time of that meeting, particularly between now and the elections."

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