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Mostar: The Undoing Of Another Ex-Yugoslav Tourist Mecca With PM-Yugoslavia

April 29, 1992

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Serb snipers have been firing down on Mostar from a hill emblazoned with a motto from bygone times: ″Peace.″

Mostar, which came under renewed mortar fire from Serb-led troops today, is yet another tourist mecca to wither in the violent breakup of Yugoslavia.

Famed for its old buildings, its elegant 16th-century bridge, and its breathtaking scenery, this city lies halfway between the embattled capital Sarajevo and the shell-shattered but once-picturesque port of Dubrovnik.

Bread is virtually the only food left in Mostar. Most residents have fled and those who remain scurry across streets for fear of snipers.

″There is no dirtier war than this one,″ said Ahmed Kurt, 43, a construction engineer who endured an artillery bombardment Monday crouched with his family in the corridor of their six-story apartment building.

At least one person was killed and 17 wounded in the attack.

A shell hit the roof of the local hospital, sending debris spewing into the maternity ward below. Patients were sent home after bullets rained through the windows, doctors said.

″Our neighbors who were sharing the same apartment block with us are now firing at us,″ said Kurt, a Muslim. ″How can that be?″

The answer lies in the tangled web of ethnic and political hatreds that have cost at least 10,000 lives in Croatia and now threaten to unleash a bloodbath among Bosnia’s Slavic Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

In peacetime, Mostar was a town of 100,000: 40 percent Muslim, 40 percent Croat and 20 percent Serb. Visitors flooded in to admire the bridge that gave the town its name and spans the emerald green waters of the Meretva river.

Since 12,000 federal army reservists arrived last fall for the assault on Croatia’s Adriatic jewel, Dubrovnik, 50 miles to the southeast, 60 percent of Mostar’s residents have fled.

Tension and violence between the federal troops and local Serbs on one side and Croats and Muslims on the other have risen steadily.

Now, life has become so dangerous that even European Community monitors stationed in the town no longer venture outside. They arrange truces by telephone. Since April 7, fighting here has left 18 dead and 161 injured.

″It’s very difficult to determine who provokes the firing,″ said one EC monitor, speaking on condition of anonymity. ″Sometimes (the sides) even ask us to tell them who started the firing.″

If the European Community imposes sanctions on Serbia, residents fear that life will become so perilous that the monitors will leave.

Then only diehards like Ahmed Kurt and Vahid Halilhodzic, once a star striker for Yugoslavia’s national soccer team and Mostar’s most famous resident, will be left to witness the carnage.

″It’s impossible to divide Mostar, as the Serbs have been demanding,″ said Halilhodzic, 39. ″Even if this happened, there would be constant bloodshed until we all exterminated ourselves.″

Halilhodzic, who has played for soccer clubs in France, has sent his wife and children to Paris.

Once a symbol of the ethnic harmony trumpeted by Communist Yugoslavia, he wishes his compatriots would simply accept that the ideal has died.

″I played for Yugoslavia with pride, and I was the saddest man when it disintegrated,″ he said. ″But now it’s finished, and we should all learn to be Bosnians.″

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