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Serbs In Final Looting and Arson Spree Before Handover

March 18, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In new scenes of anarchy and terror, furious Serbs tossed grenades and set more buildings ablaze Monday before fleeing a Sarajevo suburb. NATO-led troops seized arsonists and a policeman who tried to rape a woman, but Serb police freed them immediately.

International soldiers and police monitors ducked in and out of burning buildings in Grbavica, helping to rescue residents intent on staying in Sarajevo’s last Serb district to be handed over to Muslim-Croat control.

Fearful residents barricaded themselves in their homes, hoping to avoid arsonists and looters before the handover at 6 a.m. Tuesday, when Sarajevo will be unified for the first time since April 1992.

Fires forced others into the streets. ``This is hell!″ shouted one elderly woman as she ran out of her blazing apartment.

Groups of thugs drove around in vehicles and threw hand grenades, according to international police monitors. One exploded close to a safe house set up by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, where 21 people sought shelter Monday night.

``There’s a lot of burning and people are terrified,″ said Dr. Reinkard Hecker, a doctor with the U.N. agency. By evening more than a dozen houses and buildings _ including parts of the police academy _ were ablaze.

Twelve thugs international monitors picked up Sunday for arson and looting were released almost immediately by Bosnian Serb police _ and everyone handed over Monday was also freed.

A Bosnian Serb policeman attempted to rape a Serb woman at gunpoint Monday, but was stopped and detained by soldiers from the NATO-led peace force, according to police monitors. The soldiers turned the man over to Bosnian Serb police, who immediately released him.

Bosnian Serb policemen themselves were leaving the flame-licked Grbavica district, headed for Serb-held territory. Plumes of black smoke from two burning buildings drifted overhead as the last 30 policemen held a brief departure ceremony Monday afternoon.

Three rapes and 25 fires were reported on Sunday, according to U.N. spokesman Sylvana Foa in New York.

Firemen from Sarajevo, just 200 yards across the Miljacka River, have refused to enter Grbavica because hand grenades were thrown at two fire trucks on Friday.

There were fires and looting in the other four Sarajevo districts that have changed hands in recent days and weeks, but lawlessness in central Grbavica seemed to be particularly vicious, especially on Sunday.

Goran Kapor is a member of the Serb Democratic Initiative, the organization that encouraged Serbs to stay in Ilidza, which was handed over on March 12. He appealed to NATO and international police forces Monday to protect people in Grbavica.

``We know what they are facing now,″ he said. ``One must be very strong to survive that.″

Some Serb families have already started returning to Ilidza, he said.

Kapor stressed the importance of a message from Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who said ``there is no unified and democratic Bosnia without a strict respect for the law and human rights for everybody.″

When federation officials take control of Grbavica on Tuesday, Sarajevo will be unified, achieving a key provision of the U.S.-brokered peace accord. But the city’s population will have a higher proportion of Muslims than it did before the war.

One serious problem between the NATO-led force and the Bosnian government appears to have been averted.

Maj. Simon Haselock, a NATO spokesman, complained Monday that the Bosnian government had so far refused to meet Tuesday’s deadline to withdraw its troops and military equipment from most of Sarajevo. He warned that NATO has the right to enforce the pullback if political pressure doesn’t work.

Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, commander of NATO ground forces, met Bosnian army commander Gen. Rasim Delic on Monday to discuss the problem and Delic offered to move the soldiers, said Maj. Peter Bulloch, a NATO spokesman.

At midnight Tuesday, a 2 1/2-mile demilitarized zone set in peace talks takes effect. The biggest impact is in Sarajevo, where the zone of separation is being expanded.

Delic told Associated Press Television that army units would withdraw from barracks in the zone, but will remain in Sarajevo.

``It only means that we will organize ourselves in the way that we are outside the exclusion zone, but we can return to our previous positions, if needed, in 10 minutes,″ he said.

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