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Nermina Uzicanina has her first job since the Bosnian war be

January 10, 1995

ZENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Nermina Uzicanina has her first job since the Bosnian war began in 1992 _ selling groceries. Tomislav Pejakovic is back driving a taxi. Lucija Batista can take a bus again to visit relatives.

All that was unthinkable a year ago, when Muslim-led government troops and Croat militias were battling for central Bosnia and front lines carved up the region like a jigsaw puzzle.

A U.S.-brokered federation set up by Bosnian Croats and Muslims last March appears to be the one modest success of the international intervention in former Yugoslavia.

The federation could also offer lessons for peace-making efforts between the Muslim-led Bosnian government and rebel Serbs. Those two are now negotiating over turning their four-month cease-fire into a lasting end to hostilities.

Last January, Zenica’s residents were so hungry they raided relief convoys, and they remain poor this year. But the fighting has stopped and there is enough food to feed this city, about 40 miles northwest of Sarajevo.

``Everything is going better and better since the federation,″ said Mirsad Softic, who runs a small shop in government-controlled downtown Zenica. ``The roads are open, we can move freely, many goods come here, things are cheaper.″

Last winter, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was lucky to get 2,000 tons of food monthly to 663,000 needy people in central Bosnia’s Zenica region, where distribution was hampered by fighting.

Now the U.N. agency brings in about twice as much food and points to a successful spring sowing program. Private aid agencies are flooding in and commercial traffic has increased.

Towns once locked up behind front lines and littered with war debris now boast well-stocked food shops, restaurants and working gas stations.

Prices have plummeted. Sugar, which hit a high of about $10 a pound last winter, now costs about $1.25.

But survival is still a daily struggle for those without a job or relatives abroad to send money.

In Visoko, just south of Zenica, dozens of people waited in line for rationed bread while a newly opened store nearby offered fresh fruit, eggs, beer, sausages and milk.

Some retirees haven’t received their pensions in 15 months.

Uzicanina, the grocery seller, said her customers were villagers who earn a living selling produce at market.

Pejakovic, a taxi driver for 20 years, has resumed his profession. At first he required police escort to cross front lines; now he needs only a permit.

Buses once more criss-cross the region, so Batista can travel through the Croat-held Vitez area to her relatives’ home.

But fear and suspicion linger, both between Muslim and Croat leaders and their peoples.

In Gornji Vakuf, where the front line ran through the middle of town, wreckage has been cleared away, people have begun to restore their houses and shops have opened. Muslims and Croats even drink coffee together.

But on the Muslim side, government-issued coupons are the official currency, while the Bosnian Croats accept the kuna used in neighboring Croatia.

Zenica Mayor Besim Spahic said the most important next step is establishing joint police and customs.

Joint committees are now selecting villages where they might begin winterizing homes before refugees return.

Bedrudin Salcinovic, a government delegate on one such commission, said Muslims and Croats must continue trying to get along.

``We have no alternative solution for our two peoples,″ he said, ``because the other solution is war.″

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