If UN Departs, So May Hope For Muslims In Sarajevo

WARNINGS that UN troops might be pulled out of Bosnia in the spring have added to the alarm and despondency already felt by many ordinary people in the besieged capital.

But leaders of the mainly Muslim government denounce withdrawal hints by Britain, France, and Canada as another form of pressure on them to bow to peace terms they regard unacceptable.

``I would be very scared if they left. We'd be more open to Serb attacks than ever,'' says Omar Hadjiselimovic, a professor.

``We may only be getting a trickle of food relief, but even that would disappear if UNPROFOR pulled out. They've also been doing a good job trying to keep water, electricity, and gas supplies going,'' he adds.

The fear haunting Sarajevo is that a UN withdrawal would leave the encircling Serbs free to descend on the city like wolves on the fold. Last autumn, Serb forces drove government troops off the Mt. Igman heights immediately southwest of the capital. French UN troops have formed a buffer since the Serbs withdrew under NATO pressure.

``There would be no mercy, no restraint,'' says Dina Markovic, an office worker. ``People hate being dependent on the UN and feel it's not doing enough. They might say, `Let them go,' but if they actually went, we'd be terrified.''

But Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic is outraged by the withdrawal threats, seeing them as cynical pressure on the victims of the peace process.

``At the negotiating table, we were asked to legitimize Serb aggression and genocide,'' he says. ``Since we refused to do that, they threatened us with the withdrawal of UN troops. What's next? All that's left is for them to bomb us instead of bombing the Serbs!

``We don't agree with feeding people only to be killed, but we can't accept the kind of pressure that says, `We'll withdraw our forces because you didn't play your role in our video game,' '' he adds.

Officials of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees say that if an UNPROFOR withdrawal leads to the expected flare-up of violence, it would be obliged to suspend the relief convoys that provide a meager lifeline for many thousands of Bosnians.

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