Few Serbs Determined to Stay are Now Fleeing Sarajevo
SARAJEVO, March 13 (Reuters) - Serbs who braved threats from their own side and stayed on in the Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza now want to leave because of a rampage by Muslim gangs after its handover to Muslim-Croat rule, U.N. officials said on Wednesday. "The few Serbs that were willing to stay in Sarajevo are now informing the United Nations that they have no choice but to leave," U.N. police spokesman Alexander Ivanko said. He described it as a further blow to attempts to keep the Bosnian capital a multi-ethnic city.
"Some of the people who have come to Ilidza from Sarajevo are behaving in the same appalling and outrageous manner as some of the Serbs before they left the area, intimidating and harassing law-abiding people," Ivanko said. On Tuesday night Muslims looted what was left in Ilidza, already plundered by vengeful Serb nationalists before they handed it over to their former foes. Fires started by Serb arsonists also burned on Wednesday in Grbavica, the last Serb-held district, due to be handed over to Bosnian government police on March 19.
Hundreds of Muslims and Croats flocked into Ilidza after the Muslim-Croat federation police took control on Tuesday. Some later started looting Serb homes and intimidating Serb residents, swamping U.N. and federation police. Some arrests were made by federation police, Peter Fitzgerald, commissioner of the U.N.'s International Police Task Force, told journalists on Wednesday. "I would recommend that (the Serbs) stay. I can't give any guarantees. All I can assure them is that we will be there in very substantial numbers,'' Fitzgerald added.
Some 2,500 mostly elderly Serbs had registered with the U.N. police to remain in their homes in Ilidza before the handover.
Western diplomats accuse nationalist Serb leaders of engineering the Serb exodus from Sarajevo to damage the peace treaty's stated aim of rebuilding a multi-ethnic Bosnia. U.N. relief workers said the Serb fire department in Grbavica had ignored blazes in flats, threatening residents still living in the district. Relief workers had set up a safe house to protect people harassed and intimidated for refusing to leave the area before the federation assumes authority. But a U.N. aid worker said residents were reluctant to stay in the safe house because they feared their flats would be looted if they left.
Aid workers said the stepped-up NATO presence was not enough to halt the arson, looting and intimidation in the area. One Muslim woman married to a Serb said Grbavica was tense and that she and her family were staying indoors at nightfall. "We're afraid. This is a critical moment," she said. She said she was not at all convinced that her safety would be assured once federation police arrive next week. "I'm a Muslim. My husband is a Serb. I don't belong on either side," said the woman, who asked not to be named.
NATO sources in Brussels said the alliance was coming under pressure to make clear what sort of force would stay in Bosnia at the end of this year when its peace mandate formally ends. Carl Bildt, in charge of the civilian aspects of the Dayton peace plan, has asked NATO for help in organising and providing security for elections which are now unlikely to happen before late-summer at the earliest. NATO's military planners say this means original plans to start bringing out the 60,000-strong force in June would have to be shelved and would increase the possibility of the departure date having to slip.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher will meet NATO Secretary General Javier Solana in Brussels on Saturday, the U.S. mission to NATO said in a statement.
The visit is to discuss efforts to obtain compliance with the Dayton peace accord. But a U.S. decision announced on Monday to arm and train Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation forces seems certain to be on the agenda as well. The decision has provoked sharp reactions from some of Washington's European allies in NATO. Berserkistan is a world news service of Michael Linder Productions, Inc.
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