Tiny Bosnian Enclave Says 'Don't Forget Us'
Besieged city may be a bargaining chip
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — FOR 90 minutes each day when government buildings, hospitals, and military installations get electricity, the people of Gorazde gather around communal televisions seeking news of the outside world. The pictures they used to see of the beleaguered Bosnian capital showed them that Gorazde was not alone.
But weeks after NATO airstrikes forced Bosnian Serbs to pull back their heavy weapons and allow the United Nations to open roads into Sarajevo, Gorazde residents see pictures of the capital's crowded cafes and shops loaded with produce. The shops in Gorazde are still barren, and the mainly Muslim occupants are still fired on by Bosnian Serb guns.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic has demanded access to the Gorazde pocket as a condition for accepting the American-led peace initiative. Some analysts suspect, however, that the Bosnian government is using this last eastern UN-protected ''safe haven'' as a bargaining chip that will eventually be traded away to the Serbs as part of the overall peace plan.
''The government had planned to give up Gorazde, but when it was leaked to the press, President Izetbegovic had no choice but to announce that he would never give it up,'' a Western diplomat says. ''Betraying thousands of people in Gorazde would have been politically untenable.''
International aid workers say the 60,000 people of Gorazde feel angry and betrayed. ''Gorazde is tired of seeing bananas on TV in Sarajevo when their coffee costs [$114 a pound],'' says an aid worker who spent the past six weeks in the enclave.
After the eastern enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa were brutally overrun in July, and Bosnian Serb forces stood poised to do the same to Gorazde, international aid workers said panic spread across the enclave. Gorazde's fears were briefly allayed by the London conference at the end of July where massive NATO airstrikes were threatened should Bosnian Serb forces attack it.
But Gorazde quickly fell out of the spotlight. Less than one month after the London conference, the last remaining British and Ukrainian peacekeepers based there pulled out, leaving behind six unarmed United Nations monitors. Gorazde was to be defended by NATO air power alone.
At the end of August, NATO did bomb Bosnian Serb military installations for more than two weeks. The raids tipped the balance of the war in favor of the battered Bosnian government, but had no effect on the enclave they were originally intended to help.
The inhabitants of Gorazde sit in the middle of Serb-controlled eastern Bosnia, cut off from the rest of Bosnian government-controlled territory. Serb forces still prohibit aidconvoys from entering the enclave, and the people are facing a humanitarian crisis. According to the UN, the enclave suffers an average of four casualties a week from random firing. Two civilians were killed in Gorazde last week by Serb shelling. Children are without shoes, and many families live in makeshift housing constructed from sheet metal and plastic donated by aid groups.
The enclave's ''president,'' Riad Rasic, has created what aid workers describe as a ''kibbutz-like'' regimen in the enclave. Residents are assigned to different tasks, from chopping wood to collecting water. The fruits of the labor are shared among the population.
Despite the cooperation and remaining social infrastructure, aid workers say the plight of those in Gorazde is desperate. An example: The hospital's sole incubator, which was donated by the wife of the former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Michael Rose, contains four babies. It was meant for one.