Government Debates Ways of Reassuring Sarajevo Serbs
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Government officials are debating how to persuade Serbs to stay in a unified Sarajevo and how to counter fears the United Nations warns could drive them to leave.
For days, Serbs have been protesting a peace agreement initialed last week in Dayton, Ohio, that would give all of the divided capital to their enemies.
If they stay, Serbs fear reprisals for more than 3 1/2 years of war.
``They are chasing us from here, and we have been dying to keep our homes,″ said Nenad Veljkovic, 57, who lives in a war-battered section of the Serb-held suburb Ilidza.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has grudgingly accepted the deal worked out by his former mentor, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
But Karadzic is demanding international protection for Serb-held Sarajevo districts and renegotiation of the Sarajevo issue _ something the government and the United States, which brokered the accord, have ruled out.
Karadzic has promised his people that his troops will not withdraw from Sarajevo until Serbs are guaranteed international protection.
Bosnian government officials reiterated assurances that Serbs who have not committed crimes will be secure.
``We have 50,000-plus Serbs living on our side of the dividing line, and we certainly intend to give all Serbs within Sarajevo the same rights that all citizens ... enjoy,″ Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Sacirbey said.
In a statement carried by the government-run BH Press news agency and clearly addressed to residents on both sides of the confrontation line, President Alija Izetbegovic promised ``full security to the (Serb) civilians, and also efficient and energetic pursuit of the guilty ones.″
At a meeting with U.N. representatives and foreign diplomats, government officials came up with some ideas that could restore confidence and convince Serbs to stay in a unified capital.
Suggestions included weekend family visits across confrontation lines under U.N. supervision, restoration of telephone links between the two parts of the city and TV talk shows with residents from both sides participating.
Mirko Pejanovic, a Serb member of the Muslim-led presidency, proposed meetings of local civilian officials from both sides under the auspices of international mediators.
He also suggested that international organizations protect civilians and ensure rights. He did not elaborate, and it was not clear whether that would satisfy Serb demands for international protection.
``The Sarajevo arrangement is one of the most complex and difficult aspects of the overall Dayton agreement,″ Sacirbey acknowledged. But he warned that any attempt to renege or redefine it would destroy the entire accord.
The government’s bid to reassure Serbs across Sarajevo’s bitter confrontation lines followed U.N. warnings that many of the estimated 40,000 to 60,000 people in Serb-held districts _ Serbs say the number is double _ probably would choose to leave.
``I don’t think many of these people will stay under the federation government,″ said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. ``They’ve been through so much propaganda, and there is so much hostility and so much hatred.″
Fear and mistrust will be hard to overcome. The government-held part of Sarajevo was much more heavily shelled than Serb-held districts in the siege and shelling that began in April 1992. Front-line areas were badly battered on both sides.
``A Muslim shell killed my 14-year-old son,″ said Snezana Zugic, who lives in the area of Otes, renamed Zoranovo by the Serbs after they took it in December 1992 and sent thousands of non-Serbs fleeing.
``Our shells killed their children. We can’t live together,″ she said. ``Can’t the world see that?″
But she added: ``There is nowhere to go.″