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Serbs Cheer Absent Karadzic at Election Rally

September 5, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Thousands of Serbs cheered their absent leader, Radovan Karadzic, in an election rally Thursday in the only corner of the capital that remains theirs.

``We carry him in our hearts and in our souls,″ said Velibor Ostojic, a top official of Karadzic’s party. ``No one can snatch him from there.″ The crowd applauded wildly.

Karadzic has been indicted for war crimes by an international tribunal and is barred from both the Sept. 14 election and public appearances. He has largely dropped from sight, but retains influence.

The crowd’s reaction seemed to confirm that Serbs are intent on following the line Karadzic laid down in the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war: separation from Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats.

There was, however, also a sign of pre-election cooperation. Haris Silajdzic, a Muslim who served as the Sarajevo government’s wartime prime minister, traveled to the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Pale for a call-in talk show on a TV channel controlled by Karadzic loyalists. He is by far the most prominent Muslim so far to be invited for such an appearance.

Asked how he felt to be in Pale, Silajdzic replied: ``This is my country.″

International officials want to make sure the election permits a weak central government to maintain control over Bosnia’s two halves _ the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb republic. But they will likely have to rely on the continued presence of NATO-led soldiers.

In Oslo, Norway, the architect of the peace agreement that ended the fighting, Richard Holbrooke, warned that even a free and fair election is no guarantee of peace.

``There is a real possibility ... that the outcome will be to choose the very kind of political leaders who started the war, and are still committed to racist, ethnically based and separatist policies,″ Holbrooke, now a banker, said during a talk at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo.

The woman who replaced Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic, told the crowd in Sarajevo that it was impossible for Serbs to live with Croats and Muslims.

``Not even in peace,″ she declared. ``We cannot build brotherhood and unity with them, but we can do that with Serbs in other parts of the Balkans.″

But reports from Sarajevo and Belgrade on Thursday indicated that the nationalist dream of uniting all Serbs under one state may be slipping away.

Bosnian government and Yugoslav officials said the presidents of Bosnia and Serbia would meet soon to discuss mutual recognition.

Such a move by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, whose nationalist rhetoric inspired the Bosnian Serb revolt, would isolate the Bosnian Serbs and end the prospect of a united, Greater Serbia.

Bosnian Serbs kept a noose around Sarajevo during the war, but the Dayton peace agreement Milosevic negotiated on their behalf gave most of the territory around Sarajevo to the federation. A majority of Serbs fled rather than live under Muslim-Croat rule.

They now control of a small corner of Dobrinja, a battered southwest suburb.

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