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Serb-Muslim Mistrust Gives Way to Love Among Ballot Counters

September 29, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ With the voting over and the same leaders in power, wisdom has it that nothing has changed in Bosnia.

Or has it?

``Look at my election experience,″ says Adnan Kapo, pointing at his new girlfriend _ a Serb. ``I call it `inter-entity love.‴

Kapo and two friends, all of them Muslims, met three Serb women while counting ballots from the Sept. 14 elections. Suspicions gave way to cautious conversation.

Now the six Muslims and Serbs are inseparable _ except when they have to be. The girls still live in Pale, the grim Serb stronghold southeast of Sarajevo, and can visit only secretively.

It all started when Kapo and his friends got work as ballot counters with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, which oversaw the elections. $400 for two weeks _ great money, he thought.

The only downer: having to work next to 25 Bosnian Serb ballot counters bused in every day from Pale.

``We decided to ignore the Republicans _ this is what we called them because they come from Republika Srpska _ and keep the communication somehow to ourselves,″ he said.

``We were called the Federals,″ he added, referring to the Muslim-Croat Federation, which shares Bosnia with the Serb Republic.

The icy silence between the two groups lasted all of three days. Then Zorica, a Republican, paused from counting ballots to ask Armin Colic where he was from.

```Sarajevo,′ I said curtly,″ Colic, 23, remembered saying. ``Without looking up, she said: `Me too.‴

The ice was broken. Colic introduced her to Kapo and his other Federal friends. She introduced them to the Republicans _ but only to the girls, since the Serb boys refused any contact.

He said Zorica _ who did not want her full name used _ left her native Sarajevo as the war started. Like many other teenagers she had no choice, as parents fled to live among their own ethnic kind.

For Colic, Kapo and their friend Ademir Pasic, meetings with Zorica, Goga and Natasa soon became the highlight of the day. Evenings hurt _ that’s when the girls boarded the OSCE bus for home.

Then, abruptly, the counting was over. The OSCE farewell party lasted till 2 a.m. The Republicans boarded the bus for the last time.

Was it all over?

No. Not like this, the boys thought. They piled into a jeep.

``The girls were piled on the back seat, crying and waving,″ Kapo remembers. He scrawled something on a piece of paper. Colic, half hanging out of a jeep window, passed it to the girls while his friend moved to within inches of the speeding bus.

``Let’s have just another drink,″ said the message.

A second message, passed the same way, said: ``To hell with it. Stay.″

The girls took an OSCE sign hanging on the rear window and wrote ``We love you″ on the back. The bus crossed into Serb territory, with the girls crying and still holding the sign.

The jeep stopped at the border. The boys stood there for a while, smoking a cigarette and looking into the darkness down the road where the bus had gone.

``Damn war,″ Colic remembers saying.

The phone rang in Kapo’s apartment in Sarajevo next morning. It was the bus driver. He told the young man to bring his friends to the strip of land where the Federation ends and the Serb sub-state begins.

The girls would be waiting there at noon, he said.

___

Since then, the group spends precious days together in Sarajevo cafes and other hangouts. It’s still a wondrous experience for Zorica and her friends.

``From what I saw here, the city still lives almost like before,″ Zorica says. She sits shyly next to Adnan, wearing sunglasses for fear she might be recognized. ``Maybe it’s still a little bit mine too. I don’t feel like leaving it again.″

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