Sarajevo Is Repaired, at a Price

Vision of multiethnic city crumbles as Serbs flee before giving up power

THE feast was rudimentary and celebrated among ruins, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of Bosnian Muslims returning to their former homes for the first time in four years.

They had been forced to flee the Sarajevo suburb of Hadzici by Serbs in 1992, but on Wednesday - in line with the Dayton peace accord - the area transferred from Serb to Bosnian government control.

For hundreds of returning refugees, it was a brief moment of triumph colored by the growing realization that this "victory" over the Serbs was hollow. Nearly every Serb had fled, leaving behind an eerie ghost town. The scale of fresh damage and deliberate looting by the Serbs as they left was worse than any suffered during years of war.

The continuing Serb exodus from Sarajevo underlines the degree of antagonism between Serbs and Muslims. But all three of Bosnia's rival ethnic groups were involved in the Hadzici handover, pointing to deep problems with the fragile peace process: Hard-line Croat police arrived on the eve of the transfer, causing a tense standoff with NATO peacekeeping troops.

In one abandoned office littered with debris, Fadil Fejzic laid down a feast on a solitary wood desk. By sunset, all that was left were the greasy remnants of a sinewy leg of lamb, scraps of bread, and two empty brandy bottles.

Nevertheless, for Mr. Fejzic - a former soldier of the Bosnian Army who remembered firing on Serb soldiers at this exact spot from positions on a nearby mountain - it was paradise.

His friend Paso Dupovac struck up a quick tune on a plim, a small wooden instrument like a ukulele. Fejzic sang of Bosnian triumph.

"I am not scared of the Serbs anymore," he says, his uniform now changed for a long woolen coat and an old white tie. "I am very happy."

As Fejzic sang, the upper floors of the building continued to smolder a day after Serbs had set them on fire. Outside the door, a small family sat down to coffee at a makeshift table amid the rubble.

Less than 30 feet away, the tail fins of a large unexploded mortar protruded from the asphalt street. New posters stuck to broken glass windows warned returnees to beware of mines and booby traps.

Hadzici is the third of five Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs to be transferred to the Muslim-led Bosnian government, and each has led to an exodus of tearful Serbs and a bittersweet return of Muslims. About 65,000 of the 80,000 Serbs have left. The remaining two suburbs of Ilidza and Grbavica must be handed over by March 19, and tension there is growing.

Nermina Dupovar, a student who had been sent away with her family by Serbs in 1992, returned with mixed emotions. "I'm happy to come back, despite the wreckage. But I feel sad for the people," she said.

Only about 150 of the 5,000 Serbs in the suburb stayed behind, and United Nations officials said yesterday that they had already received several reports of intimidation. Despite the presence of 42 international UN policemen, one Muslim man "threatened" to cut the throat of any Serb who remained," said UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko.

The anxiety over the transfers was compounded in Hadzici by the surprise unauthorized overnight appearance of 18 Croat policemen, who were sent by Bosnian Croat hard-liners to protest Muslim dominance of the new police force.

Bosnia's Muslims and Croats have been nominal allies since American diplomats engineered a union between the two in March 1994, bringing an end to nearly a year of brutal ethnic war. But the resulting federation - a crucial element of the Dayton peace plan and a counterweight in Bosnia to the Serb half of the country - has shown signs of strain.

Of the 70 federation police who moved into Hadzici Wednesday, 50 were Muslim, 15 were Croat, and five were Serb. The mix mirrors the area's prewar ethnic makeup, but Croat hard-liners took exception.

Late Tuesday night the Croat police joined Serbs at the Hadzici police station, causing rumors among Muslims of Croat/Serb troublemaking and forcing UN police to request support of NATO peacekeepers. Some 100 French troops swept into Hadzici in 20 armored personnel carriers backed with heavy machine guns and small cannons. Military sharpshooters were deployed on surrounding roof tops.

Police Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald threatened to use force to evict the Croat policemen. The Croats left just minutes before the deadline passed, so that the authorized federation police could move in. A blast sounded from the police station almost immediately after the Croats left, breaking windows, and more explosive charges were reportedly found on the roof.

The Croat move was "a direct challenge to the peace agreement," said NATO spokesman Maj. Simon Haselock. "This does not bode well for the future of the federation."

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