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Through the Siege Line, A Church Group Delivers The Mail With PM-Yugoslavia Rdp, Bjt

April 9, 1993

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ War has turned Rade Nikolic from minister into postmaster, overseeing a church-run service trucking mail in and out of Sarajevo. For spreading joy among the besieged, he says, there is no better work.

The year-old siege has cut off all regular postal links, creating a void a handful of humanitarian agencies have tried to fill. Nikolic’s service, run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, has been the most successful - carrying an estimated 60,000 packages and 80,000 letters in or out of the city.

His latest 30-truck convoy reached Sarajevo from Belgrade in late March with 17,000 letters and packages. Names of the intended recipients were posted on a lengthy list that attracts a crowd of Sarajevans every day to Nikolic’s office.

″What strikes you the most is the elation of people who, after eight months with no contact, thought their friends of family were dead, and then they get a letter,″ Nikolic said. ″They’re crying as they thank us.″

The mail service started in July, three months into the war. The church has managed to avoid hassles from military officials who sometimes suspect humanitarian convoys of ferrying weapons or war supplies.

Other church organizations have roused suspicions, warranted or not, because they are identified with a particular faction in the war - Muslims, Roman Catholic Croats or Orthodox Serbs.

Nikolic has virtually abandoned his other church duties.

″The phone starts ringing before dawn and keeps ringing until midnight - people asking if they’ve gotten mail or wanting to know how to send it,″ he said.

″In a way, I’ve turned into a postman,″ he said. ″But is there any other job, in this time and this place, that would be any better to do?″

″A letter means so much.″

Many of the incoming packages are sent by Bosnian refugees in Western Europe via Zagreb or Belgrade to relatives trapped in Sarajevo.

″Every month I’ve been looking at the list, and finally I got something from my family in Germany,″ Slavica Duric, 64, said this week. ″At the start of the war, I tried to get a package through Caritas (a Catholic charity), but it was hard because I’m not a (Catholic) Croat.″

Some of the mail is bittersweet. A brother and sister who fled Sarajevo for Serbia, Sladzana and Nebojsa Kures, wrote a joint letter to some of their old friends.

″I would give everything in this world for just one party in Sarajevo,″ Nebojsa Kures wrote.

One of the recipients, Enes Karaica, said he read it with mixed feelings: ″I was surprised and angry, because it took them one year to write a letter from Serbia. They went there in April of last year. I am angry about that, although I still love them. As their punishment for leaving, I hope that they will never be able to come back here.″