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Bosnia's Vote Split Between Unity, Division

Bosnians have elected leaders who have vastly different views on how to run Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to preliminary results of Sunday's parliamentary and presidential elections.

Sarajevo political analyst Emir Habul says first results from Sunday's election indicates that Muslim Bosniaks and Orthodox Serbs have coalesced around two opposite and hard-line options. Bosnia's weak tripartite presidency will include Bosniak Haris Silajdzic, a strong supporter of a united Bosnia, and Serb Nebojsa Radmanovic, who proposed a referendum on Serb secession.

The contest for the Croat seat on the rotating collective presidency, according to wire reports quoting electoral officials, went to Social Democrat Zeljko Komsic.

Bruce Hitchens, a specialist on Bosnia at Tufts University in Massachusetts, says the strident campaign rhetoric conceals the willingness of the major parties to work together.

"I think everyone realizes that on the face of it these positions are seemingly incompatible," said Bruce Hitchens. "But I think that is only the first step in the constitutional reform process."

Hitchens is optimistic that the parties will cross ethnic lines to work to strengthen Bosnia's weak central institutions. He say he hopes talks on revising the constitution could begin as early as next month. Hitchens says he does not take seriously the threat of an independence referendum in the Serbian entity, which comprises about half of Bosnia's territory.

"I think [Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad] Dodik is clearly stating, 'look, we want to be part of this country but we want people to understand just how serious we are about the importance of preserving a strong Serbian political base in this country," he said.

Both the minority Bosnian Croats and Serbs oppose a unified government organized around the principle of one person one vote as Bosniaks comprise a clear majority. Bosnian Croats and Serbs are entitled to vote in elections in Croatia and Serbia respectively.

While a European Union led peacekeeping force will remain in Bosnia, the office of the international high representative established a decade ago is to be abolished in the middle of 2007.

High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling said the election went well and that there was no violence and urged the elected leaders to work together.