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Animals Stay Behind as Even Toughest Serbs Flee Muslim-Croat Rule

February 26, 1996

ILIJAS, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Nedjo Antic loaded everything he could onto a battered old truck, including the coffin holding the corpse of his late wife.

He took a last look at his house, said goodbye to his cow, Milka, and drove away, fleeing Bosnian rule.

``I can’t take my Milka along,″ Antic said. ``There is no space in the truck for her, and she’s too old. But I left her enough straw and water for a week.″

Antic, 61, joined a stream of Serb refugees abandoning their homes in the suburbs of Sarajevo before the districts are transferred to the Muslim-Croat federation, as required by the Dayton peace agreement. The exodus is another blow to hopes that Bosnia-Herzegovina could once again become a state where ethnic groups coexist.

``No one will stay. No one,″ Antic said. ``If we wanted to live with Muslims and Croats, we wouldn’t have fought this bloody war in the first place.″

Ilijas, a northwestern Sarajevo suburb that is to join the federation on Thursday, was the scene of fierce Serb-Muslim battles throughout the nearly four-year war. Unlike other Serb-held suburbs that held dominant strategic positions against the government forces, Ilijas was virtually surrounded by Muslim-led troops.

The people of Ilijas won the reputation as the toughest Serbs in Bosnia.

``We fought like cats and dogs with the Muslims, and now I ask myself: For what?″ Antic asked. ``Every family here lost at least one member during the war.″

Antic’s own wife was killed when a shell slammed into their yard.

``Since I’ll never come back here again, I decided to take her body and rebury her somewhere else,″ he said.

Over the weekend, the drab-looking town was all but deserted, with stray dogs roaming the streets and a few remaining Serbs desperately waiting for buses and trucks to take them out.

``We don’t have money to pay for the transportation. But when a bus comes, I’ll take a suitcase and go,″ said Sonja Spahic, her voice trembling. ``I don’t care about my furniture and such. All I care is to get out before the Turks come in,″ she added, using the word many Bosnian Serbs apply to Bosnian Muslims.

The Serbs who left _ some 15,000 of them _ stripped their homes of everything, including roof tiles, windows and frames. Some burned their houses, so no one else can move in afterwards.

The moans of hungry and dying domestic animals added to the eerie atmosphere of desolation.

On Saturday, the U.S. commander of the NATO-led peace force in Bosnia, U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, visited Ilijas to try to persuade the few remaining Serbs not to leave their homes.

``He should have come here a long time ago. Now, it’s too late. No one trusts the peacekeepers here any more,″ said a man who identified himself only as Marko.

Most of those who fled have no firm destination. They try only to find anything that resembles a house in Serb-held parts of Bosnia.

Many unloaded their belongings in the bombed-out homes of Muslims, pushed out of their neighborhoods in eastern and northern Bosnia by Serb fighters.

On Sunday, columns of trucks, buses, cars, horse-drawn carts and anything else that could move streamed from the Serb Sarajevo suburbs, heading for uncertainty.

On the way, they reburied the dead they had taken along.

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