UN Hails Bridge Opening as Step Toward Normalcy in Sarajevo

But Bosnian Serbs tell a different tale - they want two cities

AS United Nations soldiers bustled to open the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge Wednesday, Senad Kovacevic recalled the day he was expelled from his home on the far bank of the Miljacka River by Bosnian Serb ethnic cleansers.

``I was taken from my house in my socks and pajamas when the war began,'' says the Muslim refugee from the Grbavica neighborhood. ``The Serbs kept me in prison and then sent me to this side in a prisoner exchange.''

``I am sure I will be able to return home very soon,'' says the retired caterer, one of hundreds of onlookers gathered to watch people cross the front line for the first time since the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo began almost two years ago.

UN officials are hailing the opening of the span as a major step toward nursing the capital back to normalcy. But if their move was intended to help end the city's encirclement, it was also a step toward collision with the apartheid-style political agenda of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

The UN plan calls for a restoration of utility, transport, and trade links between the Bosnian government side - the heart of Sarajevo and its main suburbs - and areas overrun by the Bosnian Serbs and declared part of their self-proclaimed state.

The ultimate result of such a plan, irrespective of the flag-decked border post the Bosnian Serbs erected on their side of the Brotherhood and Unity Bridge, is an economic, social, and - eventually - physical reunification of the Bosnian capital.

That is not what Mr. Karadzic and his chauvinist cohorts want. They insist that after two years of UN administration, what was for centuries a Balkan island of religious and communal tolerance be formally split along ethnic lines.

Despite total bankruptcy, they plan to build a gleaming new, ethnically pure ``Serbian Sarajevo,'' much of it destined to be located where the capital's Butmir Airport now stands.

Residents of ``Muslim Sarajevo'' they say, will have to drive over an overpass or through a tunnel to leave ``their city.''

``There will be two different cities,'' asserts Nikola Koljevic, the self-styled Bosnian Serb vice president. ``People will exchange their apartments and move from one part of the city to another.''

What about mixed marriages? ``I don't know about today's modern women. But you know what our ancestors did ... the wife accepted the husband's religion and ethnic group and kept her own rituals in private,'' Mr. Koljevic replies. ``There is no reason why we can't do the same.''

THIS is a vision that the Bosnian government will never accept. ``There will be no Berlin Wall here,'' Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic asserts. ``It has been clear from the very beginning that we could not talk about the division of Sarajevo.''

In that regard, Sarajevo's future is closely bound with the outcome of the new United States-Russian peace initiative.

US and Russian negotiators want the Bosnian Serbs to join the new Muslim-Croat federation and abandon their goal of annexing with a ``Greater Serbia.''

Mr. Karadzic, addressing his self-styled parliament yesterday in his Pale headquarters, east of Sarajevo, rejected any such possibility. A continued refusal to budge from his position, Western diplomats and UN officials say, will doom Karadzic's people to economic quarantine by an international community from which they desperately need reconstruction assistance.

A US-British team this week completed a two-week assessment of Sarajevo's international reconstruction aid requirements. UN officials say that hundreds of mayors from around the globe will descend on the government-held half in coming months to see what their cities might contribute to the effort. ``There are big, big bucks waiting to pour in here,'' a senior UN official says.

But more galling to Karadzic's chauvinistic leadership are the estimated 60,000 Serbs who refused to join his racist movement and remained in Sarajevo, and who plan to stay there.

``I decline to believe that my normal environment, which is multinational and multireligious, has changed to such a degree that it cannot support me anymore,'' says Ljubomir Berberovic, a Serbian professor of genetics.

Mr. Berberovic is the president of an organization of intellectuals that this weekend will hold a conference that will reject Karadzic as the sole Bosnian Serb spokesman and oppose the division of Bosnia and its capital.

Despite an official policy of remaining ``impartial,'' UN officials privately say they share the vision of a reunited Sarajevo.

But at some point, they admit, they will run into serious resistance from Karadzic. ``The UN is trying very hard not to be a force in the ongoing political resolution,'' the senior UN official says.

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