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Mostar Emerges From Devestating Ten-Week Battle With PM-Yugoslavia-Separate Lives, Bjt

June 22, 1992

MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The parish priest explained the upbeat mood of Mostar’s residents, who were again worshipping, strolling and chatting in a city blasted to bits by 10 weeks of constant warfare.

″After the fighting began, the most important thing was to survive,″ said the Rev. Ivan Vuksic. ″Now they’re simply happy they made it through.″

Last week was the first since early April without street fighting and Serb shelling of Mostar, the biggest city in the south of newly independent Bosnia- Herzegovina.

Virtually every building in central Mostar has been destroyed or heavily damaged, including grand hotels and centuries-old mosques on the high banks along the Neretva River that runs through the city.

Of Mostar’s five bridges, only a lone historic stone footbridge remains. Driving from one side of the city to the other now requires an hour-long detour.

The city lacks electricity and telephone service, and its eastern side is without running water.

About two-thirds of Mostar’s 80,000 residents fled the bombardment. Those who stayed spent long hours in bomb shelters, though Vuksic said he sometimes scolded his elderly parishioners who insisted on venturing out for Mass.

Petar Zelenika, the deputy commander of the Croat and Muslim forces holding Mostar, says one of his biggest problems is that too many of those who fled want to return immediately and there isn’t adequate food and shelter to accomodate them.

His soldiers are turning back woman and children, though men are allowed in to help with the clean-up.

Zelenika says scattered fighting continues in the region as his troops flush out remaining Serb militia units.

Even though Zelenika’s forces seem to have control locally, however, he says it is unlikely they will press ahead to the northeast and help relieve Bosnia’s besieged capital, Sarajevo.

″Before the soldiers go on, there should be some time to rest and clean up this district,″ said Zelenika, a 42-year-old Croat raised in Mostar.

Vuksic said about 500 civilians and Croat or Muslim soldiers were killed during the 70-day battle. An outdoor Mass was held Sunday at St. Mary’s Cathedral for 15 of the slain soldiers.

Shells from Serb batteries on the surrounding hills tore about a dozen jagged holes in St Mary’s metal roof. In the courtyard stands a lifesize crucifix that fell to the floor during one attack, breaking off both arms.

During the bombardment, Vuksic and six fellow priests stayed on the job, celebrating Masses on schedule in a basement chapel.

Vuksic said the priests kept busy with relief work, including an aid program that benefited thousands of Muslim families.

Nedzad Stukan, 25, a medic, said a few cases of typhoid have been reported. He was spraying disinfectant on the hands of soldiers and others crossing the footbridge.

Stukan had only ill-will toward the Serb irregulars who started the fighting to protest a vote by Bosnia’s majority Muslims and Croats for independence.

A short drive from Mostar, the small Serb village of Tasovcici lies in ruins, each house apparently set afire in systematic fashion.

Zelenika said he does not believe there is a future for any Serb communities in the region, although he said individual Serbs who were willing to assimilate would be welcome.

″It will be very hard to protect any Serb villages around here,″ he said. ″Even though some of their people are innocent, it will be hard for them to stay.″

As for Mostar’s residents, Zelenika said they ″endured a hell which is difficult to describe.″

″The buildings we can put back up, but there also is a lot of damage in the minds.″

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