Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sets off today for a two-day Balkan tour primarily aimed at showing support for next month's general elections in postwar Bosnia.

Albright will start with a short visit to Croatia, but her main focus will be Bosnia, which Washington sees as a relative success story amid a sea of troubles elsewhere.Significantly, she will not be visiting Serbia or its embattled province of Kosovo, where Belgrade's drive to crush separatist ethnic Albanian guerrillas has left Western countries as frustrated bystanders, as Bosnia once did.

The Sept. 12-13 elections in Bosnia are the second since a 42-month ethnic war between Serbs, Muslims and Croats ended there in 1995, but U.S. officials say they are the first "real" ones, with a serious choice of candidates.

"There's been dramatic change all the way across, and we are seeing this reflected in the kind of political campaign which is taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina right now," a senior U.S. official said.

For Washington, a turning point came last year when the power of hard-liners supporting former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was sapped by Serb politicians more willing to implement the Dayton agreement, which ended the Bosnian war.

The U.S.-sponsored Dayton accord created a Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia but decreed that Bosnia as a whole would remain a single state.

"We are hopeful that the pro-democracy, pro-Dayton forces (in the Serb republic) will succeed in winning this election," the U.S. official said.

The State Department has also been encouraged by a split in the main Croat party in Bosnia, whose breakaway faction "has a much broader vision of the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina," the official said.

Officials say they also see signs of growing pluralism among the Bos-nian Muslims, although long-time leader Alija Izetbegovic is expected to retain his position.

Albright will visit U.S. troops - part of the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia - in Tuzla, and tour a U.S.-backed electricity project in the Serb town of Bijeljina as well as meeting Muslim and Croat leaders in Sarajevo.

She will also visit refugees in Bosnia.