NATO Commanders at Town Hall Meeting
Hear Pleas of Serbs Who Want to Stay
(SARAJEVO, March 9Reuters) Desperate Serb residents appealed on Saturday to NATO officers and international police to put a stop to looting and arson in a Sarajevo suburb due to be handed over to the Muslim-Croat federation next week.
The NATO commander of ground forces in Bosnia, General Sir Michael Walker, and international police commisioner Peter Fitzgerald met residents in the suburb of Ilidza in an effort to allay their fears and persuade them to stay in their homes. But Walker and Fitzgerald met with a sceptical and desperate audience in Ilidza, where Serb authorities have abandoned the district three days before the scheduled arrival of Muslim-Croat federation police.
About 100 mainly elderly people complained that no international organization seemed capable of halting thugs roaming their suburb and torching homes, schools and factories.
Some of them left the meeting early, fed up with what called they "excuses" from the NATO-led peace Implementation Force (IFOR) and their own Serb leaders. "We need less talk and more action. I've heard all of this before," said one woman as she walked out of the hall.
"I'm frightened for my safety once the federation police arrive. And I'm frightened right now," said the 52-year old woman who asked not to be named. "In my building, there are two families that are staying. Everyone else left. Someone may try to burn flats in my building and no one will be around to save us."
During the meeting, one man shouted at General Walker and Fitzgerald, saying he had begged for assistance on Friday from international police to put out a fire in a municipal building. "We asked for help and the answer was precise 'we are not going to do that'... I'm asking you, in the next couple of days you should do something effective for the people here." Walker expressed sympathy but said IFOR was a military force with a military mission to separate rival armies.
"IFOR and IPTF (International Police Task Force) are not a fire fighting service nor are we an engineering company," he said.
The British general urged the Serbs to stay and press their own authorities to work in their interest, saying Serb leaders had misled them about the terms of the Dayton peace accord. Bosnian Serb leaders, including assembly speaker Momcilo Krajisnik, had said the agreement could be amended to postpone the handover of authority until elections later this year.
"I regret to say your own authorities, Mr Krajisnik in paticular, raised hopes that there was flexibility in the Dayton agreement,'' Walker said. "I'm afraid that was unfortunate and that was wrong." Walker said Serb authorities had "abrogated their responsibilities."
"Don't forget the Dayton agreement was signed up by the people themselves. They cannot look to IFOR and (international police) as being the omnipotent answer to their every question. Their political leadership must play its role," he told reporters after the meeting.
"We have caused the guns to fall silent, we have caused the armies to withdraw, there are large numbers of IFOR troops in and around Sarajevo and the suburbs," he said. "What we cannot guarantee is individual security to every Serb living in Sarajevo." The international police is unarmed and has no power of arrest.
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