THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESS SECRETARY
The Administration believes that postponing this week's elections in Bosnia would be a mistake. Those who argue for postponement ignore what the people of Bosnia want -- and what Bosnia needs to help its hard won peace endure.
Much has been accomplished in the nine months since American diplomacy backed with force helped the Bosnian people turn from war to peace. The warring armies have separated and put down their heavy weapons. Battlegrounds are once again playgrounds. Marketplaces are full of life, not death. Children can go to school and their parents to work. Basic infrastructure -- like water, electricity and shelter -- is being rebuilt. Slowly, Bosnia is returning to normalcy.
The elections are a key next step along the long, difficult path to a lasting peace in Bosnia. They will create the institutions of a single, democratically elected national government for all of Bosnia -- including the Presidency, the Parliament, a Constitutional Court and key government agencies. These institutions will require practical, day-in day-out interaction among Bosnia's Muslims, Croats and Serbs -- bringing the people of Bosnia together instead of keeping them apart. The elections and the institutions they create are Bosnia's best bet to break the status quo of separation, erode the forces of extremism, and lay the foundation for a sovereign, independent Bosnian state as provided for in the Dayton peace agreement.
The overwhelming majority of Bosnians "whether Serb, Croat or Muslim" say the elections are important, intend to vote, believe they will be able to do so without fear or intimidation, and agree that delaying elections would risk widening the tensions and divisions in Bosnia. In a recent USIA poll based on nearly 4000 face-to-face interviews, 83% of the Muslims, 65% of the Croats and 89% of the Serbs said it was better to vote now than to wait for better conditions, because delay would only strengthen separatist forces. 95% of the Bosnian Muslims, 92% of the Croats and 95% of the Serbs said they intend to vote. 96% of each group said they believed they would be able to vote for the party of their choice without being intimidated. Their voice as expressed through the polls is a vote for democracy. It would be ironic to postpone democracy because we fear its results -- that sends precisely the wrong message to democracy's enemies.
Conditions for free and fair elections -- including freedom of movement and access to the media -- are far from perfect. They cannot be after 40 years of dictatorship and four years of the most brutal war in Europe since World War II. So the elections are likely to be uneven; there may be some violent incidents.
But the international community, led by the OSCE and IFOR, has worked tirelessly to deal with these challenges and to create the conditions for successful elections. We have seen significant improvements in recent weeks. Last week, in the U.S. sector alone, more than 100,000 people crossed the boundary between the Serb Republic and the Bosnian Croat Federation -- bringing the six-month total to more than 1.3 million crossings. Thirteen major parties representing all political views are contesting the elections nationally, and dozens more are taking part in individual races. They have access to a wide range of electronic and print media, including a Swiss-funded independent radio network, the major independent television Open Broadcast Network (which went on the air September 7 and reaches 50% of the Bosnian population), and dozens of independent newspapers.
As we get closer to election day, IFOR will work with the international and local police to help provide as safe and secure an environment as possible. It will step up its presence in areas where there is a potential for violence and intervene if people's lives are threatened. Twelve hundred international election supervisors and hundreds of international election monitors will help prevent intimidation and other abuses.
After so much bloodshed and loss, there is no guaranty that Muslims, Croats and Serbs will come together -- and stay together -- as citizens of a shared state with a common destiny. But the point of the Dayton Agreement was to give them a chance to try -- by ending the war, creating a secure environment, promoting economic reconstruction and growth and establishing the institutions of a single Bosnian state. We should now take the next step and let the Bosnian people vote for their leaders and their future.
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