French General’s Heroism Doesn’t Convince Jaded Bosnians With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Back home in France, Gen. Philippe Morillon is almost as well-loved as the adored oceanographer Jacques Cousteau.
But he wasn’t liked much by Bosnian Muslims before last Friday, when Morillon and 14 U.N. peacekeepers under his command entered freezing Srebrenica in a bid to force Serb forces to lift their siege of the eastern Bosnian town.
Initially, the refugees wouldn’t let the general leave. Then he decided to stay on his own accord until Serbs let in relief trucks with food and medicine, and allow the evacuation of wounded.
″I will stay here until the cease-fire is established and the corridor is opened,″ he told The Associated Press earlier this week.
Morillon said Thursday that Serbs had agreed to allow the aid operation begin Friday.
Many Bosnians admire the gesture by the 57-year-old Frenchman. But they have not forgotten earlier, unfulfilled promises.
″He told us there would be water and power for Christmas, he said there would be wood brought in for our stoves, he said the rail line to Sarajevo would be opened,″ said Sarajevo journalist Gordana Knezevic.
″It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t keep these promises, but he wasn’t careful in making them,″ she said. ″People knew these things were impossible, so they didn’t take him seriously.″
Murat Efendic, a Srebrenica official now based in Sarajevo, has spoken by ham radio several times with Morillon in the past week.
″While Morillon has been in Srebrenica, we’ve lost a major portion of the surrounding area,″ Efendic said. ″But I’m grateful he’s stayed in Srebrenica and done everything possible to protect citizens there from certain liquidation. The lives of 60,000 to 70,000 people are in his hands.″
Efendic recalled a controversial incident last year, when U.N. officials vowed to enter the city of Jajce before it fell to the Serbs, but failed.
″Morillon said he wouldn’t be late for any other city, but he was too late for many,″ Efendic said. ″Fortunately, he wasn’t too late for Srebrenica.″
Morillon is viewed by his military colleagues as a dedicated, old-school soldier who hates to leave a job unfinished. Back in France, he has become a national hero. TV crews scramble to get him on the air live.
France-Info radio, in a commentary Thursday, said Morillon was as highly regarded as oceanographer Cousteau, perennially ranked France’s most popular man.
Born in Morocco on Oct. 24, 1935, Morillon graduated from Saint-Cyr military academy and began his career in the Algerian war of independence, in which he was cited for bravery four times.
Ejup Ganic, deputy to Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, expressed a grudging respect for Morillon. While some foreign leaders have tried to exploit missions to Bosnia for personal gain, Ganic said, ″I believe Morillon went to Srebrenica for very professional, ethical reasons.″
Still, he said, Morillon and his aides until last week had seen ″only a tiny little bit of the tragedy that has struck Bosnia.″
″Now, their eyes are open,″ Ganic said.
Morillon said this week that an attack on Srebrenica ″would be a crime against humanity.″
″Those people have no asylum at all. They are just living in the streets,″ he told Croatian television and the British Broadcasting Corp. about the refugees who have flooded Srebrenica from other eastern Bosnian towns.
″And that is the reason why I am here, to help those people,″ he said.
Until last week, Morillon was viewed by many Sarajevans as the embodiment of the U.N. failure to break the Serb siege of the capital.
Graffiti reading ″Morillon - Killer″ covers a wall near the presidency building.
Some Bosnians held Morillon indirectly responsible for the Jan. 8 assassination of Hakija Turajlic, the Bosnian deputy prime minister who was killed by a Serb soldier while sitting in a U.N. armored vehicle at a Serb checkpoint.
Morillon expressed deep anguish over the episode.