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Front-line Soldiers Ponder the ‘Civilian Factor’ in Bosnia’s War With PM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

June 1, 1993

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Five Bosnian government soldiers pondered the central dilemma of this war as they readied for battle: Is the price of victory too high when innocent civilians become the victims?

″I can go and set a fire in an apartment building,″ said Elvedin Mrkva, 22. ″But as soon as I hear a child cry, I know I would jump into my own fire to save him. I know that would be suicide for me.

″Civilians are an obstacle to war.″

In 14 months of fighting, civilians among all three warring factions - Croats, Muslims and Serbs - have become pawns to be sacrificed for military goals. In areas of ″ethnic cleansing,″ racially homogenous areas have been created through murder, terror and expulsions.

The tactic of sacrificing civilians was evident again in Sarajevo in recent days as Serb gunners pounded residential districts, apparently hoping that government soldiers concerned about their friends and families would break off their latest assault on Serb positions.

The ″civilian factor″ was on the minds of Mrkva and four fellow soldiers as they prepared Monday to leave for front-line positions near Mount Trebevic, where government forces recently won new positions.

As they awaited the order to move, they agreed that one way to pressure the Serbs into negotiations would be to seize the Serb-controlled Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica.

But the Serbs are well-entrenched in the neighborhood’s warren of streets winding up slopes above the Miljacka River, and dislodging them would mean a brutal, house-to-house fight.

″The only way to do it is to burn down every building from the third floor up,″ said Mrkva, 22, a former butcher.

Faruk Dzina said he was willing to fight soldiers but had no desire to kill civilians.

″But don’t you realize the soldiers will be in those civilian houses too?″ said trooper Almir Kurt.

Another soldier, Mladen Popovic, turned to sarcasm. ″We cannot sit with folded hands,″ he said, in reference to Western diplomats who have failed to stop Bosnia’s war.

The United Nations has proposed creating six safe areas to protect Bosnian Muslims. Bosnia’s government has rejected the scheme, saying it rewards Serb aggression while confining Muslims to ethnic ghettos.

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