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Tuzla Sees Lots of Military Green, But Not Much American Cash

January 12, 1996

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The Americans have arrived in Tuzla, but not many are hanging out in town _ or spending their dollars.

Residents hope President Clinton’s visit Saturday will change that, somehow encouraging others to come, invest and open their wallets in this worn and polluted town in northeastern Bosnia.

Tuzla is the headquarters for American troops in Bosnia, and 2,300 of the 20,000 Americans expected in Bosnia by mid-February are already in the area.

But their movements are restricted, and they have been staying close to base _ and keeping their money in their pockets.

``To be honest, I am disappointed,″ said Senad Pehlivanovic, 48, who opened the American Club restaurant hoping to strike it rich when the Americans arrived. ``As a matter of fact, all of Tuzla is disappointed.″

Pehlivanovic opened the restaurant less than two months ago. Small stars-and-stripes flags decorate dining tables and posters of stars from the Phoenix Suns and the San Francisco 49ers hang on the walls.

Pehlivanovic invested more than $10,000 in the hope of attracting diplomats, U.S. officers and international media.

But instead of making big bucks, the restaurant is barely covering its expenses. Most of the time it’s empty, and the occasional guests are mostly journalists and friends of the owner.

``But President Clinton is coming, and maybe that will change things,″ Pehlivanovic said. ``Maybe after this visit, other diplomats, businessmen and politicians will start pouring in.″

Clinton is expected Saturday as part of a morale-boosting trip for U.S. servicemen. His trip also includes stops in Hungary, Zagreb, Croatia, and the Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy.

Whatever Clinton’s visit brings, it won’t bring the GIs themselves to town.

The Americans’ main camp, and the headquarters of the American-controlled northeastern sector of Bosnia, is at the Tuzla airport, six miles southeast of town.

Long convoys of Humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, Abrams tanks and supply trucks are jamming the narrow and bumpy roads of Tuzla. Heavily armed patrols cruise through the suburbs.

But that’s about where the American presence ends. GIs are allowed to leave their compounds only on official missions, and even then they have to obey strict rules that dictate the number of escorts and the route of travel.

``It is too early for our boys to go downtown,″ said Col. Robert Gaylord, NATO spokesman in Tuzla.

Another NATO spokesman, Maj. Vic Warzinski, said that for security reasons, it would probably be at least two months before American soldiers will be allowed to ``go downtown and socialize.″

Tuzla Mayor Selim Beslagic said the delay is a lost opportunity for his city.

``The arrival of Americans is the chance of our life,″ he said. ``We heard that one American soldier will be spending 30 German marks ($20) per day. Such a huge amount of money, this region has never seen.″

Bosnians earn an average of maybe $30 a month.

Warzinski said Tuzla residents aren’t the only ones who are disappointed _ the GIs are looking forward to hitting town. But for now, the soldiers _ and Tuzla _ will have to wait.

Alma Bajric, a 22-year-old university student who lives near the air base, is offended.

``They should come down downtown and meet us,″ she said. ``They would learn that we are not just wild savages who waged bloody war for four years.

``They would learn that many nice, educated, polite and civilized people live here. They shouldn’t be afraid of us. We are not animals.″

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