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Flowers from Front-Line Garden Brighten Up Bosnian War Market

September 13, 1993

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Serb soldiers are within earshot, but the flower lady doesn’t care.

Minka Gerim’s roses and dahlias, tended lovingly on a plot just this side of the front line, add a splash of beauty to the cow’s head and contraband cigarettes on offer at the Sarajevo market.

Done up in silver foil, cellophane and red ribbons, Mrs. Gerim’s offerings look almost frivolous among the withered carrots, piles of precious potatoes and a hodgepodge of rusty and dented odds and ends displayed in neighboring stalls.

″I know it’s a luxury,″ she laughed, raising her voice above the din of Sarajevans taking advantage of a quiet, sunny Sunday to crowd narrow marketplace aisles and deal for life’s necessities.

″But it looks better than cabbage.″

Like most other merchants, the frail 52-year-old was put out of business by war that erupted nearly 18 months ago, her store destroyed by shells, her supplies cut off by besieging Serbs.

″All my flowers came from Mostar before the war,″ she said, referring to the embattled city in southwestern Bosnia. ″Now I grow them between the trenches and the front line.″

Mrs. Gerim’s war garden is in the eastern suburb of Sedrenik, directly on a Sarajevo confrontation line. To reach it, she said, she walks the few hundred yards from her house, past trenches dug by government troops and into no man’s land.

With Serb troops occasionally as close as 20 yards, danger is inevitable. But Mrs. Gerim said that working with her flowers gave her the peace of mind to shrug off the perils.

″I got shot at more times than I care to count,″ she said. ″But I’m not afraid. Whenever I’m out there, I have the feeling that I won’t be shot - that we will win this war.″

People with more basic needs ignored her lovingly wrapped offerings. But a few people lingered at Mrs. Gerim’s bright display.

″These are the only things that cheer me up,″ said Behija Alic, peeling off two singles from a small roll of dollar notes for a bouquet. ″My husband died in the war; my children are refugees in Syria. Books and flowers are the only things I have to live for.″

But few sales are to flower lovers in a city where war has claimed an estimated 10,000 people.

″Nowadays, I normally sell to people going to weddings and funerals - mostly funerals,″ said the flower lady.

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