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Traffic Snarls, Stores Open as Sarajevans Seek Normalcy

March 21, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Trendy boutiques filled with the latest fashions. Intersections clogged with traffic. The tap-tap of repairmen’s hammers and chisels. Sarajevo is waking to its first peaceful spring in four years.

But nothing is as it was. The old city is physically shattered, and there is little money to fix it.

The people left to do the job are emotionally drained by the drama of destruction. In a city that prided itself on tolerance, many are caught in a web of suspicions _ against an ethnic group, against the refugees who have flooded the city, against smugglers who made money from the war.

Metropolitan Sarajevo has about half of the 600,000 people who once lived here. About a third of the population is displaced _ having fled destroyed or occupied homes in Sarajevo or fighting in the countryside.

The city has been reunited after almost four years of division between the government and rebel Serbs, but the cost was the loss of thousands of Serbs _ including some whose families lived here for generations.

Spokesman Kris Janowski of the U.N. refugee agency said only a trickle of the hundreds of thousands who left Bosnia during the war have come back.

Nevertheless, the changes on the surface are startling. Sarajevo is beginning to bustle again as memories of shelling, sniping and shortages recede.

Traffic once again clogs intersections, motley Yugoslav-built compact cars competing for space with trucks bringing in supplies. More traffic lights are working, though some drivers used to wartime chaos still ignore them.

On the wide airport road once dreaded as a Serb sniper target, pedestrians dodge cars instead of bullets to catch packed red-and-white streetcars.

Tony boutiques compete for customers who have missed four years of fashion, reopened cafes are filled with young people and stores have restocked their shelves with fruit, vegetables and dairy products.

At the city’s main Kosevo Hospital, the tapping of hammer and chisel has replaced the screams of shelling victims as workers chip away at shattered windows before replacing the panes.

But such activity cannot pass for reconstruction. Mangled hulks of office buildings and shell craters in the streets remind Sarajevans at every step of what’s left to be done.

Aside from a few storefronts, large-scale reconstruction has not begun. Architectural monuments like the national library and museum are in ruins, as are thousands of offices, apartments and homes.

International conferences called to gather money for reconstruction have been a disappointment. Of an estimated $5 billion needed to rebuild Bosnia, only about $600 million has been pledged.

And underneath the facades, the city is far from at peace with itself.

Today’s Sarajevo pits war profiteers against retirees drawing monthly pensions of $14, urban professionals and intellectuals against tens of thousands of rural refugees driven from their homes during the war, and those who endured the war against those who left.

Urban Sarajevans have little in common with the country folk, whom they easily recognize by their weathered skin and shabby clothing.

``I hope all the peasants leave soon, and Sarajevo will again become a center of fashion and music,″ said 30-year-old dentist Bakir Hadziosmanovic.

Fatima Gapa, a 33-year-old war widow from a village 30 miles south of Sarajevo, would like to go home instead of selling fruit to support herself, her mother and 15-year-old son.

``But it’s very difficult to imagine that after our Serb neighbors killed my husband,″ she said.

Sarajevan Muslims who stayed and fought for the government are increasingly bitter toward their neighbors who fled during the war and are now trickling back.

Those who fled ``had a normal life for four years, and now they come back when everything is over,″ said Muhamed Talic, a gaunt 29-year-old selling cigarettes at the entrance to Sarajevo’s indoor market. ``There is no excuse for that.″

One of those who fled, 27-year-old Adi Gariboric, is optimistic about his future in Sarajevo after spending most of the war in Italy. He hopes to open a boutique but is looking for odd jobs in the meantime.

Yet he, too, said the Sarajevo he knew is gone.

``Everything has changed,″ he said. ``Everything is destroyed.″

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