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Albright Warns Bosnia That Radical Victory Could Damage Economic Aid

By R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post
BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Two-and-a-half years after the international community agreed to help create a multiethnic nation from the shards of the bitter war here, Alexander Dragutinovic, 19, says he prefers to live only with fellow Serbs and favors a political slate led by ultranationalists in presidential and parliamentary elections planned for Sept. 12-13.

But Dragutinovic quickly adds that he is hesitating to vote for Radical Party candidate Nikola Poplasen - who openly favors unification with Serbia - for one reason: He knows that a Poplasen victory could sharply diminish U.S. and allied aid for Bosnia's financially ailing Serb republic, drastically shrinking the pool of jobs available when he finishes school in a few years.

In the waning days of a tight election race, the Clinton administration is counting increasingly on blunt economic blackmail to stoke such fears and pull a critical number of voters away from the nationalists and into the camp of Serb National Alliance party president Biljana Plavsic. She is a moderate reformer whose decision to support the 1996 Dayton accord seven months ago has already brought an economic windfall of $70 million in U.S. aid to build schools, fix roads, and provide hundreds of small-business loans.

To help drive home the message that "Dayton pays" and its opponents will suffer, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright came to this hotbed of nationalist support aboard a U.S. Army helicopter Sunday and, under a heavy military guard, spent a few hours calling attention to the potential economic gains for Bosnians if they vote the way that Washington wants.

The election, she said, offers a "clear, consequential choice" in which voters "can decide whether this country will be a country that prospers from trade and investment or a country that stagnates in isolation; (and) a country where people can live and work wherever they choose, or a country where people are confined by lines of division."

During her brief visit, Albright toured an electrical power substation here completed three days ago with a grant of $1.6 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveling in the company of Plavsic and Milorad Dodik, the republic's prime minister - who Albright referred to as "a good ticket." She said one-quarter of Bosnia's representatives were already relying on electricity supplied by U.S. aid, and that a total of $100 million is slated to be spent in the republic this year.

Whether the sales pitch will work remains uncertain. As Plavsic complained to Albright, the nationalist parties have "blamed us for too much cooperation" with Washington and its allies, playing to traditional Serb fears of foreign manipulation. Albright is banking instead on voters letting their pocketbooks dictate their choices.