Sarajevo Safer, but Mood Mixed After NATO Strikes Suspended
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Listen to the sounds of Sarajevo, and you’ll hear a city transformed. The booming of shells and cries of pain and anguish have been replaced by happier sounds: dance music from a reopened disco, laughing children back in school.
Although countless lulls have come and just as quickly gone in 3 1/2 years of war, many Sarajevans out strolling the crowded streets Friday were optimistic that this time the guns will stay silent. NATO jets that still buzzed overhead provided some reassurance.
``I believe NATO and the U.S., they have shown that they are serious about this, and the Serbs know it,″ said Osman Kadric, an engineer, as he walked home with a bag of groceries. ``I believe that if the Serbs don’t go along, NATO will continue.″
Two weeks of near-daily NATO airstrikes and the threat of retaliation by the big guns of the U.N. rapid reaction force have plugged the barrels of most Serb guns menacing the Bosnian capital. The raids were suspended Thursday for three days to allow the Serbs time to make good on promises to withdraw their heaviest guns from around the city and permit U.N. aid flights and truck convoys into the city.
In addition, for the first time since the war began 40 months ago, there is a feeling that the United States and its allies have made peace in Bosnia their top foreign policy priority. The new pressure resulted last week in an agreement in principle by all warring factions on a plan to end the war.
But the 40-month Serb siege remains intact for the ordinary residents. Many feel that they’ve been sold out by the rest of the world in its desperate search for peace.
``Serbs have proven that they are stronger than NATO,″ exclaimed Nusret Demic. Scornfully alluding to suggestions by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke that the siege was over, he asked: ``For whom? For the U.N., or for the citizens?″
Yet most Sarajevans agree that their lives have improved from when NATO and the United Nations began their air and artillery campaign Aug. 30, two days after a Serb shell exploded in a Sarajevo marketplace, killing 38 people.
Sniper Alley, the deadly main thoroughfare cleaving through Sarajevo, is again awash with people who avoided it just two weeks ago. Despite sandbags piled up across some store fronts, window shopping is back.
City officials moved the curfew back one hour to 10 p.m. a week ago. Just days earlier the city’s most popular disco, the Bosnia, reopened after more than two years of closure.
Schools opened Monday after a week’s delay, when city authorities deemed it safe to go back after summer holidays.
Ignoring the threat of Serb attack, the United Nations reopened the city’s supply route across the U.N.-controlled airport Sept. 3. That has led to a steady flow of commercial traffic into the city and plummeting prices. Two pounds of potatoes now costs $1.80 _ half what they cost last month. The price of lemons is down 25 percent.
Recent gains in central and northwestern Bosnia by the government army and allied Bosnian Croat militias add to the sense of hope.
``I’m going to get a heart attack from all this good news,″ joked Sarajevo television editor Senad Hadjifejzovic as reports of territories taken from the Serbs poured in Wednesday night.
Mirza Tanovic, a well-known Sarajevo actor, expressed the feeling shared by many Sarajevans as he sat in a bar with two friends for morning coffee.
``The halt in airstrikes, the withdrawal of heavy weapons ... all this is irrelevant to me,″ he said. ``What I care about is that they are not killing us.″