NATO Troops to Support Bosnia Elections
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 1996 Warring parties have separated. Troops and heavy weapons are back in cantonment areas. The next step in the Bosnia peace process is for elections to be held. NATO's peace implementation force, the IFOR, is there to help.
IFOR will help ensure free elections are held Sept. 14, said British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, commander of NATO land forces in Bosnia. Providing a secure environment for the elections and ensuring people are allowed to vote is part of the force's mission, he said during a press briefing in Bijeljina Aug. 7.
"We are here to deliver the security necessary for democracy to occur, so police can enforce the laws, courts can interpret the laws and the citizens of Bosnia can begin to lead decent, productive lives," Walker said.
IFOR troops may help deliver ballot boxes, voting lists and other documents to about 4,000 polling stations, the commander said. "The important bit is the security of the ballot box once it's full of the voting papers from its polling station to its counting house," he said.
Conducting the elections will take the combined efforts of the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and IFOR, Walker said. People are being allowed to vote in the place where they used to live, which may now be part of a different political entity. The international organizations will help ensure people are allowed to go where they wish to vote, he said.
Possible unrest during the elections concerns the military commander, who said he is taking a preventive approach to deal with the issue. Plans are being made to deal with possible public disorder and to prevent crowds from gathering.
Walker said he is urging local officials to make a grassroots push for open and free elections throughout the country. Officials need to simply follow the election rules and "let the voters vote," he said.
"These elections are a true watershed and an opportunity that shouldn't be wasted," he said. "The last thing the world wants to see are angry, unruly mobs trying to stop people from going to their rightful place of voting and casting that vote."
IFOR will not become the police, Walker stressed. Local police are responsible for providing basic public safety and law and order. It is "the force of last resort, not to be used lightly or inappropriately," he said.
"The troops of IFOR have opened democracy's door here in Bosnia," Walker said. "I've been telling local officials I sense a willingness at their level to see that the voting goes smoothly and to allow every legitimate voter to come into their communities and cast a ballot, no matter who or which party or ethnic entity they belong to."