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Bosnia holds mayoral elections amid renewed tensions

Bosnians are voting for mayors and councils in 140 municipalities. In a development that might heighten tensions between ethnic communities, Srebrenica could get a Serb mayor.

Bosnia-Herzegovina on Sunday was holding a vote for mayors and municipal councils that is likely to throw into relief dividing lines between Bosnian Serbs and Muslims in the fragile Balkan country, which was wracked by an inter-ethnic war in the 1990s.

Ethnic tensions in the country are currently particularly strong, and have been heightened further by the decision of Bosnian Serbs at a referendum last weekend to continue celebrating their "national holiday" on January 9, despite a court in Sarajevo banning the referendum and ruling that the holiday illegally discriminated against Croats and Bosniaks. Many see the vote as a first move toward possible secession from Bosnia.

The ethnic divide is very apparent in the eastern town of Srebrenica, where a Serb is tipped to become mayor for the first time since 1999. The town, in which Muslims and Serbs live together in uneasy proximity, achieved sad renown as the site of a massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in 1999.

Both the Muslim and the Serb candidate have, however, pledged to work equally for both communities.

Former warlord as mayor?

The northwestern town of Velika Kladusa might also gain a controversial figure as mayor, with war criminal Fikret Abdic, 77, considered a frontrunner in Sunday's poll.

During the war, Abdic, a Bosnian Muslim, sided with the Serbs against Muslim forces loyal to Sarajevo and proclaimed an "Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia." He was handed a 15-year jail sentence by a Croatian court in 2002, and released in 2012 after serving just two-thirds of his time.

Fikret Abdic (picture-alliance / dpa/dpaweb)

Abdic was convicted of war crimes in the 1992-95 war

Bosnia was split into two semi-independent entities under the Dayton peace accords that ended the conflict in 1995. 

Results of the election are expected late on Sunday. Some 3 million people are eligible to vote.

tj/jlw (AP, AFP)

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