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Bosnian Serb Elections Appear To Deal Setback to Hard-Liners

By Lee Hockstader
The Washington Post
VIENNA, Austria

Elections in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia appear to have broken the choke hold on parliament maintained by allies of former President Radovan Karadzic and other nationalists opposed to Western peace efforts.

Although complete official results of the Nov. 22-23 vote might not be available for a week or more, analysts who have studied partial returns predict Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party and its allies in the Serbian Radical Party will not win enough seats to control the 83-member legislature.

That would represent a sharp defeat for the hard-liners, who until now have used their comfortable majority in parliament to obstruct the U.S.-mediated peace plan for Bosnia and to challenge President Biljana Plavsic, who is strongly supported by the West.

It is also the clearest sign yet that at least one of Bosnia's three main ethnic parties, which led their people in the 1992-95 war and remain fervently nationalist, might be losing its grip on popular support. Karadzic, a war crimes suspect inducted for genocide and crimes against humanity, is a fugitive from international justice, but he has exerted considerable influence in Bosnian Serb politics nonetheless.

"It doesn't really mean the Karadzic crowd is going to fold up its tents and go home," said a Western diplomat in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, in a telephone interview. "But they're definitely on the defensive."

Despite the setback for the hard-liners, the election results hardly portend a calmer political season in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia, a quasi-state roughly the size of Vermont and populated by fewer than a million people. While the hard-liners do not appear to have sufficient seats to form a government, neither do their Western-backed foes.

For the past few months the territory has been riven by a bitter and sporadically violent dispute between the Karadzic loyalists, based in the eastern ski resort of Pale, and a bloc loyal to his successor, Plavsic, based in the western city of Banja Luka.

The West regards Plavsic as somewhat more supportive of peace efforts despite her own ardent nationalist views and her history as a loyal wartime disciple of Karadzic.