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Their Future Uncertain, Serb Fears Grow With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

March 5, 1994

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Stevo Peric has been fighting on the Serb side in Bosnia for 23 months. He is still alive and relatively well, but his self-confidence is disappearing and his fears are growing.

Four comrades were killed by Muslim-led government forces within few hours last Tuesday. Seven died the day before.

″We cannot do anything. Artillery is useless, there are too many of them,″ he said, waiting for transport to take him home for few days from the front.

Such gloom has been rare among Serbs, who have dominated the battlefield and won control of 70 percent of Bosnia. In Banja Luka, Bosnian Serbs are still terrorizing the Muslim minority, the United Nations reported last week.

But even Serb fighters and civilians have grown tired and suspicious. They worry about about a rapprochement between Bosnian Croats and Muslims, the other two sides in Bosnia’s three-way war.

The government and Croats have begun talks in Vienna to flesh out a U.S.-brokered agreement that calls for a federation of Muslim and Croat cantons in Bosnia and its confederation with neighboring Croatia.

The accord did not include the Bosnian Serbs, who fear it will turn into a a renewed military alliance between the Muslims and Croats, who had formerly been united against the Serbs.

″We know that the Muslims will launch a strong offensive in spring. And now, joined with Croats again, it might be even stronger,″ said Maj. Milan Pantovic, the Bosnian Serb air force spokesman.

Government troops occupy trenches where the Serbs’ overwhelming artillery advantage doesn’t harm them, Peric said. The only way to take ground is in infantry combat, and superior numbers give the Muslims the advantage there.

″When these forests become covered with leaves again, we are lost. They will come out from their shelter and attack us,″ said Peric, his eyes on the densely forested, snow-capped hills surrounding Banja Luka.

Banja Luka, a Serb stronghold in northwestern Bosnia and Peric’s hometown, remains untouched by fighting. Most Croats and Muslims were forced to leave the town, site of some of the war’s worst human rights violations.

Mosques, whose elegant minarets once dominated the town, have been destroyed according to a Serb belief that Muslims never come back to a place where a prayer tower has been toppled.

The Roman Catholic church and the bishop’s seat at Banja Luka still stand, but most Roman Catholic Croats have fled.

The Muslims and Croats left behind fear the Serbs will take it out on them in the event of Serb losses on the battlefield.

″When they suffer losses, they are angry and try to make it even by torturing us,″ said a fearful Muslim woman, who refused to identify herself.

During the day, life appears normal except for armed, uniformed men on the streets and in cafes. After 11 p.m., when restaurants close up, wild, drunken groups are in control. Serb civilians say they’re not safe, either.

″They are also beaten and threatened and their homes are often robbed,″ said a Serb woman who was afraid to give her name. ″I could be next.″

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