FOR Bosnia, it should be a historic moment: After nearly four years of brutal war, the capital Sarajevo will reunite tomorrow in line with the Dayton peace agreement.
But what should have been a triumph - Bosnia's Muslims, Croats, and Serbs celebrating living together once again - has instead broken down into lawlessness, mistrust, and turmoil.
The Dayton deadline Tuesday, known as D+90 because it falls 90 days after the accord took effect, permits armed forces of the Bosnian Muslim-Croat and Serb entities to deploy for the first time in all territories that have been transferred from rival control.
But today Bosnia's ethnic groups are as divided and fearful of living with each other as ever, according to officials of the United Nations and the NATO-led peace Implementation Forces (IFOR). Many question whether the goal of a multiethnic Sarajevo and Bosnia, the cornerstone for the peace deal, is within reach.
The last of five Serb-held Sarajevo districts, Grbavica, reverts to Bosnian government control tomorrow. But the month-long process has sparked a massive exodus of some 60,000 Serbs and a campaign of systematic burning and looting that has turned the suburbs into a wasteland.
Under the watchful eyes of IFOR, Bosnia's ethnic groups have divided and separated themselves further.
Western officials say that such a dangerous precedent in Sarajevo - which appears to be orchestrated as much by the Muslim and Croat authorities as by the Serbs - is poisoning prospects for reconciliation throughout Bosnia.
"I wouldn't say that everything has been successful - far from it," says Carl Bildt, the European Union's representative for Bosnia whose task is to oversee rebuilding. So far, he says, "the forces of ethnic separation are stronger than the forces of reintegration."
Mr. Bildt's office is seeking some $5 billion from donors over the next three years to convince Bosnians that peace pays more than war.
But so far, donors are reluctant to finance large aid projects when political leaders from all sides seem intent on thwarting reconciliation.
Ironically, a meeting of bankers and donors in Sarajevo was held over the weekend at the Holiday Inn, just 200 yards from the burning buildings of Grbavica. "It is disgraceful for the international community to promise millions and millions to rebuild, while millions goes up in flames. Something is wrong," a senior UN official says.
US Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of the peace force in Bosnia, says that the root of the problem is faction leaders. "I don't see the political direction that supports the Dayton accord. I think the political will in this country has got to be generated and demonstrated in a graphic way," he says.
Examples of what has gone wrong are also graphic, and easy to see in the suburb of Ilidza, which came under rule by Muslim-Croat federation police on March 12. Some 3,000 people stayed on - out of 20,000 - putting their faith in government promises of law and order. Even on the day of the handover, there was jubilation and optimism.
US Ambassador John Menzies was pleased: "I believe that the Bosnian government is committed to the Dayton peace process," he said then. "They're committed to a multiethnic, multicultural society, and they recognize they need the Serbs here."
But within days, harassment and intimidation of remaining Serbs by Muslim thugs - who the UN said were at times encouraged by Muslim policemen - turned blame against the government. Tensions were high as Muslims returned to still-smoldering homes and found burned sheets of newspaper nearby twisted into torches by the arsonists.
Young men sought vengeance, working in groups. The Serbs felt "betrayed," and the UN was "puzzled" by the government's inaction, says Alexander Ivanko, the UN spokesman. "Nothing has been done to stop this campaign of intimidation," he says.
The root of the problem, a senior UN official says, is the government of President Alija Izetbegovic. "My feeling is that the Bosnian government is not genuinely interested in keeping the Serbs in Sarajevo," the UN officials says. "They are interested in keeping a tame few for the image."
That lesson is being taken seriously in Grbavica, where Serbs say they are even more reluctant to stay since Ilidza has come under the grip of Muslim thugs. For many there is reverse intimidation: Militant Serbs here are trying to force out their comrades and destroy the district.
"This is a manifestation of patriotic ideals," says one Serb, noting that during the war, Bosnia's Serbs fought for a separate, ethnically pure "Greater Serbia." "People are furious because we did not get a part of Sarajevo. We fought for this piece of land."
Justification for the violence is simple for one Serb thug in his early 20s who would not give his name. "They killed my father," he says, gesturing toward the Muslim center of Sarajevo. "So I must kill them. We can no longer live together, ever."
The Serb exodus has caused UN officials and moderate Bosnians to fear the creation of a sea of discontented Serbs migrating endlessly. "It's a never-ending cycle of barbarity," says Kris Janowski, the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "It is very destabilizing, and it is a big setback for our job, which is to undo the goals of war."
The figures speak for themselves, he says. More than 900,000 people have been displaced by the war inside Bosnia, and 1 million have fled the country as refugees. The UNHCR hoped to bring as many as 850,000 back to their homes this year, but so far barely 40,000 have returned.