Christopher Given Hero’s Welcome in War-Torn Bosnian Capital
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Shaking hands and sweeping small children into his arms, Secretary of State Warren Christopher basked in ``this summer of hope″ Thursday as the liberated people of Sarajevo poured into the streets to give him a hero’s welcome.
``Bravo, Christopher!″ exulted a burly fellow in a T-shirt as he clapped the secretary of state on the back.
Making his first visit to Sarajevo in six months, Christopher celebrated signs of returning normalcy in the scarred Bosnian capital and plugged hard for a big turnout in elections scheduled for mid-September.
However, the leading opposition candidate, Haris Silajdzic, head of the Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina, told him he was urging a boycott because the ravages of genocide had not been corrected.
A Muslim, Silajdzic said the peace accords mediated last year by Christopher and other Clinton administration officials permitted Serbs to stay in the homes of people they had forced to flee. ``The election is a registration of genocide,″ he said he told Christopher in a meeting with political leaders at the U.S. Embassy.
Christopher was more struck by what he saw in a walking tour of the older part of the city. ``I saw the bustle of people,″ he said in a television address. ``What I heard and saw today gives me great confidence _ confidence that hope can triumph over violence and tolerance over hate on Sept. 14,″ the election date.
``With the election,″ Christopher told the people of a nation emerging from a 3 1/2-year ethnic conflict, ``you will take back the power that was denied you.″
Walking about the city, Christopher shook hands with well-wishers and stopped several times to lift children into his arms.
With schools reopened after the war, but now in summer recess, a chipper fourth-grader, Edin Osiljicic, told him brightly he had scored all Bs in the past year.
Christopher stopped at a greengrocer to buy a bunch of grapes, using Bosnian dinars. At other stops he accepted a gift of a whisk broom and was presented a T-shirt with the legend ``Sarajevo ’96″ marking his visit.
In broad sunshine, Christopher placed a wreath of red-and-white carnations at a memorial to 17 Sarajevans killed and more than 100 wounded by a Serb shell as they stood in line to purchase bread in May 1992.
``This was the beginning of our horror,″ Sabira Hadzovic, president of the local canton and Christopher’s guide, told the American visitor through an interpreter. ``The memory alone reminds us of times past.″
Christopher assured her the United States, providing $587 million in economic aid to the former Yugoslav republic this year, is ``determined we don’t go back and that normalcy returns to the city.″
Before leaving for home, Christopher went on Bosnian television and told the people he had seen glimmers of coming peace on his last visit in February.
``Today in Sarajevo, I saw that the people of Bosnia are rebuilding their lives and their country in this summer of hope,″ he said.
American-led diplomacy last fall produced the Dayton, Ohio, accords to the war. The way to negotiations was cleared by NATO bombardment of Serb artillery in August after a mortar shell crashed into a major marketplace and killed more than 60 people.
Until then, the Clinton administration futilely pushed a policy of trying to mount strategic allied air strikes against offensive rebel Bosnian Serb positions and lifting the U.N. arms embargo against the Muslim-led government. The European allies refused to go along, and the policy was shelved until a year ago.
Christopher began Thursday at Sarajevo airport, which reopened to civilian traffic Wednesday night. Through the war, 50 French soldiers died keeping the airport open for relief supplies. It is being rebuilt with more than $26 million in European contributions.
``This once-besieged airport, remembered around the world as the symbol of Sarajevo’s isolation, is the newest symbol of the city’s reintegration with the world,″ Christopher said. ``The horizons, which were shrunk by four years of hatred and war, are once again lifted.″
Carl Bildt, Swedish representative of the United Nations, said work on the airport is only the beginning of a long-term renovation, and most of its facilities remain in devastation.
Indeed, Christopher saw ample evidence of destruction of war as he walked from city square to marketplace to a new playground, one of 10 under construction with a $65,000 U.S. Agency for International Development grant.
``Everyone should take a message from the children here and not slide back into war,″ he said.