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Militants in Bosnia Threaten Lives of Election Observers

By Tracy Wilkinson
Los Angeles Times
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina

As hundreds of Americans flood Bosnia to observe this weekend's national elections, the U.S. Embassy warned Thursday of a group of "moujahedeen" (Muslim fighters) here who have threatened to kill Americans.

U.S. citizens will be advised to stay away from an area of central Bosnia where the presence of Islamic fundamentalists is strongest and where a string of confrontations between those individuals and NATO troops has escalated, Western officials said.

American officials formally protested to the government of Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic Thursday and demanded the expulsion of the men. Under terms of the U.S.-brokered peace accord that ended Bosnia's war, he promised to eject hundreds of foreign fighters, many from Iran, who trained and fought alongside the Muslim-led Bosnian government army.

The Clinton administration had to certify that foreign fighters were out of Bosnia to trigger a multimillion-dollar "equip-and-train" program to arm Bosnia's army. The first shipment of weapons arrived in Sarajevo last month, after that certification.

Continued moujahedeen presence "is very serious," said a Western official. "It continues to represent a real threat to (NATO). The threats have become more and more intense recently."

On Saturday, Bosnia holds its first post-war election amid persistent ethnic tension, the threat of violence and a lack of basic freedoms. Going as far back as April, American and Polish NATO patrols in a region of central Bosnia south of the cities of Doboj and Maglaj have been harassed by groups of as many as 15 men whose beards and attire seem to put them in the category of Islamic fundamentalists, Western officials said.

The threats have been oral, and no exchange of gunfire has been reported. But in recent weeks, the men specifically threatened to "kill any Americans who come into town," a senior Western official said.

To make their point, the men dragged a finger across their necks, imitating the slitting of someone's throat, the Western officials said.

As many as 2,000 moujahedeen are believed to have been working in Bosnia during the war and many left after the signing of the peace accord last December. But a large number are believed to have been reissued Bosnian passports or to have married into Bosnian families as a way to skirt the requirements of the peace plan and remain in the country.

In its protest, the U.S. Embassy "made it clear that these people are out. (the U.S.) wants immediate action from Izetbegovic."

Thursday's protest to Izetbegovic was the first ever on this issue, the officials said. There was no comment from the Bosnian government.