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Double Blow For Bosnian Serb Hard-Liners

Fearing war crimes charges, Momcilo Krajisnik of the hard-line Bosnian Serb SDS is reportedly in hiding. Meanwhile, leaders of the Bosnian Serb Radical Party have been banned from next year's elections.
By Janez Kovac

The two most extreme Bosnian Serb political parties have suffered a double blow this week that will certainly effect their participation and chances in next year's elections.

In the wake of media speculation about a possible indictment for war crimes, the leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and the Serb member of the first post-war Bosnian tripartite presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, has reportedly taken refuge somewhere in Serbia, fearing arrest.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, three leaders of the Bosnian Serb Radical Party (SRS) have been banned from competing in next year's elections.

Although the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has made no official comment about Krajisnik's indictment, nobody is answering the telephone in Krajisnik's office and none of his friends or aides appears to know his current whereabouts.

This follows the appearance of an article in the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz citing western diplomats alleging that Krajisnik's name was on one of the Tribunal's latest sealed indictments.

In recent months The Hague Tribunal has grown in confidence, issuing indictments among others against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four of his inner cabinet, and receiving in custody several high-ranking war crimes suspects, including the active head of the Bosnian Serb army. Moreover, new prosecutor Carla Del Ponte has made it clear that she intends to focus on the most senior indictees.

During the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Krajisnik, who is popularly referred to as 'The Eyebrow' as a result of his principal physical attribute, was one of the closest allies of leading Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic and a notorious profiteer.

After Richard Holbrooke persuaded Karadzic to withdraw from public in July 1996, Krajisnik took over control of the party and became its leading candidate in the September 1996 elections.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the international agency which supervises elections in Bosnia, banned Nikola Poplasen, the president of the SRS, and two other senior party members from standing in next year's poll after reviewing the material which the party presented to register. OSCE officials said that they would be penalising parties which violate local laws, the Dayton Peace Agreement and the election rules and regulations.

After winning most votes in the 1998 presidential elections, Poplasen became the president of Republika Srpska but was dismissed this March by Bosnia's then High Representative, Carlos Westendorp, for obstructing the peace process. The SRS now has until October 22 to resubmit its registration documentation, including candidates and membership lists, after removing Poplasen, Mirko Blagojevic and Ognjen Tadic, or it will not be allowed to participate in the ballot.

In response, Poplasen rejected the OSCE's demand in a statement that was read out on Bosnian Serb television, describing the OSCE's move as "an obvious example of a totalitarian behaviour of a fascist type, which bans parties and people who think differently".

In the wake of these two blows, the key Bosnian Serb hard-line parties find themselves in a no-win situation. Even if The Hague Tribunal has not indicted Krajisnik, it is unlikely to deny the report and thus reassure him. As a result, Krajisnik will likely be obliged to keep a low profile and leave the decision-making and management of the SDS to others.

If the Radical party does eventually yield to the OSCE demand, their election prospects will be seriously affected by the absence of their leader.

Meanwhile, the SDS and the SRS have increasingly been coming into conflict with each over. The rift is especially acute at the local level, where officials of both parties have in some places begun to work with parties from the Muslim-Croat Federation in order to win international, reconstruction projects.

The two hard-line parties have also failed to agree a common approach on the question of the president of Republika Srpska and whether Mirko Sarovic, the vice president who is also a member of the SDS, should accept the position in place of Poplasen. While the SDS believes that Sarovic should become president, the SRS insists that Poplasen's dismissal should simply be ignored.

A rift has also emerged within the SDS party itself, between the followers of Krajisnik and a more moderate faction headed by one of the party's vice presidents, Dragan Cavic. If Krajisnik does decide to keep a lower profile in the wake of his reported sealed indictment, western diplomats believe that the Cavic faction is likely to come out on top.

Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for a journalist from Sarajevo.

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