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Families and Friends Reunite Briefly; Cease-Fire Spawns Hope With AM-US-Yugoslavia, Bjt

March 18, 1994

VITEZ, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ A soldier sobbed into his sister’s shoulder. Warm laughter floated from neighbors and friends who hugged, kissed and pressed chocolate, cigarettes and tinned meat into one another’s hands.

A three-week-old truce between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia has swept away front-line barriers as though they never existed. Farmers are in the fields and children in the streets once more.

But most of all, it has brought hope, and the chance for families, friends and neighbors to come together again after nearly a year of bitter conflict.

There is no chance to share a coffee around the kitchen table. Not yet. Until the two sides agree on terms for freedom of movement, civilians cannot actually cross the lines, so such meetings must take place along the road.

In Washington Friday, Croats and Muslims signed documents creating a federation designed to put pressure on the Serbs to end the two-year ethnic war. President Clinton called it ″a moment of hope.″

The emotional reunions that began at this U.N. checkpoint a week ago are also moments of hope. They’re brief because of limited space at the checkpoint on what was the front-line between Croat-held Vitez and Muslim-held Travnik.

Crowds of people, most seeking relatives on the other side who had been separated by the previous fighting, stood in the road about 300 yards from the checkpoint Thursday, anxiously waiting their turn. Military police from both sides nervously compared lists of names.

The system was devised after some 500 people crowded into the narrow checkpoint area a day earlier.

As small groups approached from each side, their faces twisted with anxiety and hope. They scanned the figures approaching from the other side. Then faces cracked open in wide smiles. Joy burst out in tears, arms melted into clustered tangles of embraces and offered gifts.

The desire for peace is overwhelming.

″We’ll accept any kinds of rules or status, just let peace come,″ said Maria Moros, a Croat who came from Travnik hoping to find her son, Dragan, whom she had not seen for more than nine months because of the fighting.

Muslims and Croats were allied against Bosnian Serbs at the outset of the Bosnian war nearly two years ago. But last spring, they turned against each other, fighting over territory - mostly in central Bosnia - not held by Serbs.

The Muslim-led Bosnian government and Bosnian Croats now have agreed to a federation that would then form a confederation with neighboring Croatia.

″We common people were never asked about it,″ Dragan Moros explained of the Croat-Muslim fighting.

″If someone had asked us, it would never have started at all,″ he said, sitting at his home in Vitez, where journalists delivered a note from his mother asking him to meet her at the checkpoint.

″They were my dear neighbors and friends; I lived with them for 20 years,″ said 23-year-old Atilio Loncar, a Croat, after comforting a sobbing friend who came from Travnik. ″We thought before this war between Muslims and Croats that politics must have done this. Now it’s so hard to make a good (republic).″

Ivica Dzuric, a Croat military policeman, began to cry as he talked of seeing his family again. When his sister arrived at the checkpoint from Travnik, he buried his face in her shoulder and sobbed.

Having met some friends at the checkpoint, he felt there was hope Muslims and Croats could live together again.

″We stayed the same,″ he said. ″The war didn’t change us.″

Asked what he thought of the federation, he said: ″Anything, anything, just stop the war.″

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