Exodus Mars Bosnia Peace

WHEN Milos Marijanovic and his family moved out of their house, they literally packed everything, including the kitchen sink. They even took the parquet floors.

The Marijanovics are among the last drops in a tide. Nearly every one of the other 19,000 Serbs who lived in this northern Bosnian town and the encircling county have stripped almost everything useful. Some have retrieved their dead from the cemetery, intending never to return.

Heaping their cargoes in horse carts or wagons hitched to cars and tractors, the Serbs of Odzak have departed in search of new homes. Only about 10 families remain. But with no electricity or running water, they too will soon go, leaving behind rubble-filled streets to looters, stray dogs, the winter wind, and dark memories.

The exodus was spontaneous and the largest yet, sparked by the Dec. 14 signing of the Bosnia peace pact, which included Odzak in territories the Bosnian Serbs must surrender to the Muslim-Croat federation. Unable to trust in the security promised by the NATO peacekeeping force and too frightened to live with their foes, Odzak's Serbs are moving to the newly legitimized "Republika Srpska" within Bosnia.

The flight from Odzak reinforces critics' worries that by choosing to divide Bosnia along ethnic lines - albeit within a single state - the Clinton administration has brokered a peace plan that will cement the goals and achievements of the ethnic chauvinists who fought to destroy the country's mixed, multireligious, prewar heritage.

"Could you live with people who killed your family?" asks Pero Tanackovic, Odzak County's only remaining Serbian Orthodox priest, as he stands outside one of the small churches he is abandoning. "It was done by all three sides. I don't think people could live together here again."

The Odzak departure also holds a key lesson for radical Serb leaders who oppose the peace plan. Unlike Serbs in Sarajevo who have embraced calls not to relinquish areas of the city, those in Odzak have gone with nary a whisper months before the county is due to revert to Muslim-Croat control. For them, peace is worth the cost of giving up their homes.

"The people accepted what they have to accept so that the dying stops," Mr. Tanackovic says. "It is very hard to leave your home, your property, all that you have worked for your whole life. But sometimes it has to be done."

Odzak is the seat of a county of modest villages and isolated farms whose northern boundary ends at the Sava River border with Croatia. Its prewar population of 30,650 was 55 percent Croat, 20 percent Serb, and 20 percent Muslim.

Local power was won in December 1991 elections by the Bosnian wing of the Croatian Democratic Union, known as the HDZ, the ultranationalist party led by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. When Bosnian Serb rebels ignited the war three months later, the Odzak HDZ allegedly launched a reign of terror.

Serbs say more than 3,500 Serb men were thrown into makeshift concentration camps, where they were beaten and tortured; about 60 died. Croatian militiamen, meanwhile, allegedly raped Serbian women and girls. The ordeal ended that September when Croat fighters fled before advancing Bosnian Serb troops.

Much of the town was devastated. The Serbs added to the destruction by dynamiting homes from which Muslims and Croats were expelled. Many of those houses were then renovated by thousands of Serb refugees who arrived over the next three years from other areas of Bosnia.

Now they and their hosts have become refugees, moving to Modrica and other towns across the nearby border of Republika Srpska. There, many face numerous hardships.

"I have no property. I have nothing," says Savo Spasojevic. "My wife and I are living on the street in Modrica. We have no other place to live."

Others, like Marijanovic, have taken over homes gutted by fighting or ethnic cleansing. With little or no money for refurbishing their new shelters, they have taken doors, windows, locks, and other hardware from their Odzak residences.

"I have been assigned a house in Modrica. I'm going to renovate it," says Marijanovic, who fled to Odzak two years ago with his wife, two children, and mother from the Muslim-held town of Gracanica.

The effect of the exodus has been to erase even the barest traces of normal human habitation in Odzak. The downtown is a refuse-strewn morass of empty apartment blocks and abandoned offices and shops. The only working business, the Bomb Shelter Cafe, is closing. The mayor and police chief are gone, leaving security with Bosnian Serb military police and a handful of civilian officers.

Looters from nearby Serb-held areas roam the streets and outlying villages, scavanging whatever they can. "I'm taking this to my sister," one man says of the huge chicken coop he is dragging away in the wagon hitched to his tractor.

Risto Milic, a physics teacher, laments what has happened. Sitting with his wife and son in their icy living room, surrounded by cartons waiting to be moved, he says he was heartened when local officials urged Odzak's Serbs to live with their former Croat and Muslim neighbors.

But what began as a trickle grew into a flood. "People are just gripped by fear," Mr. Milic says. "Out of this fear, people began leaving on their own. I understand the [peace] agreement seeks to restart our common life, but after all of this suffering it may not be possible."

Milic says he yearns for the way things were before the war. But, he adds: "I cannot stay for two reasons. First, I'd be condemned by my own people. Secondly, I'm afraid of acts of vengeance."

The Orthodox priest, Tanackovic, his hands cut from prying windows and doors from his residence, is almost ready to go. But he says he will leave intact one of the churches in which he ministered for the returning Croats and Muslims. They will also find the key in the front-door lock.

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