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Bosnian Serb Military Trucks Return to Evacuate People

February 26, 1996

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The Bosnian Serb military returned Monday to Sarajevo suburbs it once controlled. This time, it came in defeat: Its forces were evacuating the few thousand Serbs remaining in the Bosnian capital.

The departure of thousands of Serbs in advance of the city’s reunification next month under Bosnian government rule stifles hopes that Sarajevo could retain some of its multiethnic character.

Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, expressed dismay at the NATO-led peace implementation force’s decision to allow Bosnian Serb military trucks into the districts of Vogosca, Ilijas and Rajlovac to pick up refugees and their belongings.

Officials of the force said they did not want the Serbs to go, but that they were facing reality: Most Serbs preferred leaving to submitting to the rule of Bosnia’s Muslim-led government.

Although the Bosnian peace agreement left no side feeling it was the clear winner, Sarajevo’s Serbs clearly feel they lost the most because they have to turn over their five districts to the government by March 19.

Of perhaps 50,000 Serbs who lived in western suburbs such as Vogosca, Ilijas and Hadzici, only about 5,000 remain. International officials expect most of them to leave, too.

There was no count of the number who left Monday with the 40 Bosnian Serb military trucks permitted into the area to collect them. The trucks were to be without military plates and their drivers unarmed.

Some of the people waiting for transport out of Vogosca said they had not been treated badly by the Muslim-Croat federation police who started patrolling there on Friday.

``They are all very polite,″ said Jadranka Bosiljevic, who came to Vogosca after fleeing from Visoko in central Bosnia. ``But I am in a Muslim house, so I don’t dare stay.″

Kristina Turudic and Mara Radulovic, both in their early 70s, said they were leaving to join their children.

``I have nobody here,″ said Radulovic, looking sad as she headed to a bus to take her away, ``so I will be joining my daughters in Serbia.″

Returning Muslims and Croats examined what remained of houses they had left in good shape before the war, but were stripped bare by departing Serbs.

``Even the windows are gone,″ said Bensad Heric who was expelled with his Serb wife, Slobodanka, in May 1992. ``But we’ll put it back into shape.″

``Sure, Serbs can stay,″ said 28-year-old Nedzad Kukuljica, one of dozens of returning residents mingling with the new Muslim-Croat police force. But, he added, ``those who are fleeing probably are ashamed of what they did.″

Before the war, more than a quarter of the half-million people in greater Sarajevo were Serb. They now make up about 10 percent of the 300,000 people left.

``The fewer Serbs remaining in Sarajevo, the worse it is for the efforts here to piece the country together again,″ Janowski said Sunday.

``Some of them are using the lack of transport as a cover for remaining,″ Janowski said. ``But if a Serb military truck pulls up outside their house it is reasonable to fear they may well feel obliged to go.″

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