The World's Most Dangerous Tram
Vulnerable to sniper fire, Sarajevo's only mass transit is a symbol of normality for Bosnia's embattled capital
WHEN Muhamed Burek leaves home for work, he doesn't know if he will live to see his wife and two children at the end of each day.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
But Mr. Burek is not a soldier. He drives one of Sarajevo's electric trams.
``I think about my family every time I pass the Holiday Inn,'' Mr. Burek says, as his tram grumbles by the hotel's bullet-pocked bulk in the city center. ``I wonder how they would survive if anything happened to me.''
The hotel marks the end of the most hazardous leg of Sarajevo's 18-mile tram system, a quarter-mile stretch of track exposed to Bosnian Serb snipers who take cover in abandoned buildings only 100 yards away on their side of the front line.
Like moving targets in a carnival shooting gallery, the red-and-yellow trams shuttle tens of thousands of Sarajevans through the zone daily; service suspended only by power outages and sniper fire. Burek and his fellow drivers make the run dozens of times a day.
``This is the most dangerous tramline in the world and anywhere else that exists,'' says Burek, a gregarious, bright-faced man whose attempts at humor are offset by the deep furrows that worry his forehead. ``This is the tram of death.''
Fifteen civilians have been killed and more than 50 wounded in roughly 50 Bosnian Serb attacks on the trams since they began rolling on March 8, 1994, following repairs from shellfire that disrupted service for 22 months.
The injured include three drivers.
Nine people were wounded last week by machine-gun fire blasting a passing streetcar, but the trams remained defiantly in service.
The unpredictable attacks have persisted despite an antisniper accord this summer between the Bosnian Serbs and the Muslim-led Bosnian Army and deployments of UN antisniper teams in armored cars along the hazardous stretch of track.
``What's the use of that,'' snorts Burek at a French UN armored car parked on a sniper-prone intersection with its cannon pointing skyward. ``It looks like he is shooting airplanes. When the Chetniks [Serbs] see that, they see they are safe.''
``It's really tough,'' continues Burek, who has survived three sniper attacks. ``I just expect the guy to shoot. And when he doesn't, I think, `I passed again this time.' Because I never know when he is going to shoot. They have no rules, no schedule.''
Beyond machine-gun fire, shelling remains a threat for Sarajevans. Bosnian Serbs shelled the Sarajevo suburb of Hrasnica over the last four days, killing three people and wounding 25 others.
The Bosnian Serbs say they are shelling Sarajevo in retaliation for a current Bosnian government offensive in the northwest part of Bosnia in which 100 square miles have been reclaimed by government forces.
THE Bosnian Serb army had threatened to shell ``selected targets'' in Sarajevo unless the UN commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, stopped the government offensive to Bihac and cleared Muslims from a Sarajevo demilitarized zone.