HADZICI, (AP) Thousands of jubilant Muslims and Croats poured into this deserted Sarajevo suburb Wednesday as Serbs gave it up to their enemiesí control. The crowds appeared unfazed by an overnight attempt by some Croat policemen to thwart the handover and undercut the Muslim-Croat federation that is to govern half of Bosnia, including all of the capital Sarajevo.
The Croatsí challenge to the federationís authority underscored growing disputes between Muslims and Croats within their federation, formed under U.S. pressure in March 1994 after a year of fighting. It also threatened Bosniaís fragile peace: If the federation cannot function, then the country is likely to disintegrate, with the Serbs merging with Serbia, Croat lands uniting with Croatia, and a small Muslim state struggling to survive between them.
Some Return to Smoldering Ruin
Hadzici was the third of the five Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs to come under the control of federation police, who are to take over the entire capital by March 19. Almost all of its Serb residents fled before the handover, their own fears of reprisal from wartime enemies fanned by Bosnian Serb leaders who incited them to leave. Thousands who fled Hadzici or were expelled when the Serbs took it in 1992 clogged the main road into the suburb Wednesday, eager to see even the hulks of their homes. Most houses had been stripped by departing Serbs loath to leave anything valuable behind. Some still smoldered after being set ablaze overnight.
"It is strange, very strange to be here again after these four years," said Husein Dupovac, one of the federation policemen who was born in Hadzici and lived there until Serbs expelled him in 1992. He said his family is planning to return even though their house was destroyed. Only about 150 people, most of them elderly, stayed in Hadzici; they were left without electricity, water and heating.
'If There is Any Humanity Left in this World...'
"My wife and I decided to stay here," said Djuro Puljic, a 70-year old Serb. "We realized that if there is any humanity left in this world, there is nothing we should be afraid of." Puljic, who fought as a Yugoslav partisan in World War II at age 12, said the 43 months of Bosnian bloodshed were worse. "I have seen it all for the last four years. Slaughtering, looting, torching and raping," he muttered as tears rolled down his cheeks. "We are old and havenít done anything to anybody."
NATO Threatened Renegade Croats
Just half an hour before the handover became official, the threat of NATO guns forced out a band of Croat policemen opposed to the Muslim-Croat alliance. The trouble began late Tuesday when the 18 Croats entered the police station at Hadzici and joined Serb police there, immediately setting off rumors of a joint Serb-Croat maneuver against the Muslims. International police requested help from the NATO-led peace force, and about 100 French troops equipped with 20 gun-mounted armored personnel carriers rumbled into Hadzici overnight.
The French were ready to use force, as authorized by the Bosnian peace accord, said Navy Capt. Mark Van Dyke, a NATO spokesman. After a tense standoff, the 18 Croats left at 8:30 a.m.just half an hour before Hadzici officially passed to federation control. Muslim and Croat officials in the federation have been arguing over which group should dominate the Sarajevo administration, and they are bitterly at odds over the divided, southwestern city of Mostar.
Jozo Leutar, a Croat who is the federationís deputy interior minister, said the policemen deployed in Hadzici included only those approved by the Muslim-led Bosnian government but none delegated by Bosnian Croat authorities. "We want our federal partner to learn to respect the federal system and acknowledge that one people do not make up the federation," Leutar said.
(Sarajevo, March 6) The Bosnian federation took control of a third Sarajevo township from Serbs on Wednesday after a confrontation between NATO and Croat police who seized a police station. Crowds of civilians followed federation police into Hadzici, in the Bosnian capital's southwestern suburbs, where the town hall and several apartment blocks blazed in the wake of fleeing Serbs.
The last 50 Serbs huddled around open fires in the main street until 3 a.m. when buses arrived to take them to Bosnian Serb territory. Hadzici is the third Serb suburb of Sarajevo to be handed to the federation under a Bosnia peace agreement.
Federation authorities gained control an hour late after a potentially nasty showdown between a group of Bosnian Croat police, who occupied Hadzici police station late on Tuesday, and NATO peacekeepers.
U.N. Police Threaten Use of NATO Force
With French NATO troops standing in readiness, U.N. police chief Peter Fitzgerald threatened the 18 Croats with force unless they left." You are not authorized here... if you refuse to leave voluntarily, I will call on (NATO) and have you removed, by force if necessary," Fitzgerald told the Croat commander.
They drove off shortly before 9 a.m. under a U.N. police escort. They accused Muslims in the federation of giving the Croats no say on who would represent them on the force, and of picking the Croat police themselves. The force contains 50 Muslims, 15 Serbs and only five Croats, but reflects the prewar ethnic balance in Hadzici.
'The Machine Worked'
"The machine worked the way it was supposed to and the mere threat of force carried the day because there's nothing to match NATO in Bosnia," said a western diplomat in Sarajevo who asked not to be named.
"Without NATO the machine would not have worked. That raises the question of what would happen were NATO to leave on schedule. Unless there's progress building reliable political institutions the answer seems to be another war could start." Muslims and Croats were forced into the federation by U.S. mediators who ended bloody fighting between them for control of central Bosnia during the war. They remain distrustful allies.
It was not clear who the policemen were or who sent them. Some reports said they were Bosnian Croats; others said they were from Croatia, which the Croatian government denied. Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic told reporters the government expected the Hadzici action and blamed police from the nearby Bosnian Croat town of Kiseljak which became rich on wartime black marketeering. Muslim officials believe some Bosnian Croats are trying to sabotage the federation from within.
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