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W.Va. woman assists in Bosnia election

March 29, 1998|By CLYDE FORD

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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Dorothy McGheeW.Va. woman assists in Bosnia election

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Once Dorothy McGhee's bus entered Bosnia, it did not take long for the Shepherdstown woman to see the devastation caused by years of civil war.

"Fifteen minutes after crossing the border, I saw the first burned-out village. Village after village was bombed out," she said. "The ethnic cleansing was so systematic. My stomach was a knot and my heart was in my mouth. The terrible thing is after a year you just get used to it."

McGhee returned to Shepherdstown around March 11 after spending months in Bosnia working for the U.S. State Department overseeing the democratic elections and then reviewing the outcome.

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Years of civil war between the Serbs and Croatians in the former Yugoslavia devastated the country in unbelievable ways, she said.

"This was just an unspeakably vicious war with large-scale genocide," McGhee said.

Sixty percent of the homes in the country were destroyed.

More than 10,000 were killed and 60,000 injured in Sarajevo, which was once a cosmopolitan European city of 500,000.

"The extraordinary challenge is to create a civil society and a market-based economy out of those shambles," McGhee said.

McGhee, 53, a free-lance writer and political activist, said she became interested in doing the election work in Bosnia after meeting a longtime friend who had just returned from the country.

McGhee said she always felt safe in the war-torn country because of the NATO forces patroling the country, including about 3,000 American soldiers.

"I was so proud to see them. I was so proud they were there," McGhee said. "The vast majority of U.S. forces I saw were very enthusiastic about their mission. They thought they were doing work that was meaningful and productive."

McGhee said she and other election officials helped register voters for municipal elections and monitored the media and political parties before last November's election.

She then helped audit the votes, looking for voter fraud.

McGhee said she ventured around the countryside with an interpreter and a driver, checking voter registration records.

She said about one-third of the registrations were false and had to be thrown out.

"There were numerous times where I was in situations where there was a lot of tension and a lot of yelling," McGhee said.

McGhee said her experience in Bosnia gave her a new appreciation for the democracy taken for granted in the United States.

"It was a real privilege to me to be part of that effort to create a civil society out of conditions like that," McGhee said.

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