Serb Agreement, NATO Threat, Bring a Ray of Hope
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ People popped open windows shuttered during 22 months of war and cautiously peeked out. A few smiled as they stepped out on their broken balconies.
Children emerged from their shell-battered apartments to run through the roads that had been off-limits for so long.
″I never imagined it was so beautiful on this side of the street,″ said 11-year-old Elvida Cernica.
The reckless signs of hope began just a few minutes after a U.N. tank pulled up near the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge, a place that hasn’t seen much of either in two years.
Suddenly, the adjacent boulevard cluttered with gutted trucks and streetcars, known as Sniper Alley, was alive with laughing children heedless to the Serb snipers 100 yards away across the Miljacka River.
The children darted around the surprised, heavily armed U.N. Protection Force soldiers and played on a creaking seesaw in a park where shaggy grass hasn’t been trimmed in 22 months.
Too many cease-fires have come and gone for Sarajevans to believe in them anymore. And Thursday’s truce did not exist long without being violated.
In the most serious incident, mortar and gun fire rang out around midnight near a front line, and there were unconfirmed reports of fatalities. Earlier, a government soldier was wounded by machine gun fire.
Still, the first hours of the Thursday’s truce, backed by a NATO ultimatum and the deployment of U.N. troops, offered too much hope for some of it not to infect the children.
″I am not afraid of the Serbian snipers anymore because UNPROFOR is here,″ said Merima Durakovic, 11. ″I’m afraid of my mother, because she will kill me if she sees me standing here.″
At noon, the cease-fire between Bosnian Serb and government troops officially went into effect. A French armored personnel carrier pulled up to the bridge, took six rounds of sniper fire and zoomed away.
But a few minutes later, the first of six U.N. carriers and a tank took up positions on nearby Sniper Alley, cannon barrels pointed toward Serb positions across the bridge, 100 yards to the south.
Their goal was to separate Serb and government troops and to stop the shooting on the alley, which runs along the river on the government-held side.
The U.N. commander for Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, appeared out of nowhere with Gen. Andre Soubirou, the French commander in Sarajevo.
Both wore flak jackets and helmets.
The children wore sweaters and jeans.
Rose stood for a few minutes on the Muslim-led government side of the bridge. He then slowly crossed the bridge toward the Serb-held side, backed by about 30 French soldiers with bazookas and heavy machine guns.
Serb civilians, watching from windows on the other side, were close enough to see the whites of their eyes.
″It is a small beginning,″ Rose said after his bridge-crossing. ″So far so good, but it is a very early stage.″
″We are not so naive,″ he added. ″We know we have many setbacks ahead.″
Naturally, some of the child play turned to war games.
Four kids built a makeshift barrier by dragging wire and bits of iron across Sniper Alley. They scrambled onto the side of an aid truck and managed to dislodge a gas can before Egyptian peacekeepers chased them off.
A half-dozen boys peered through the blackened skeleton of a truck at the Serb positions on the other side of the river.
″This is unbelievable, I thought I’d never be this close to them and watch,″ said one of the boys, Almir Huljic, 15. ″It seems that this cease- fire will be obeyed.″