SARAJEVO is gearing up for a festival. It is called 'Days of Hiroshima'. The guest speakers include the American writer Susan Sontag and - the organisers hope - the mayors of Hiroshima and Dresden, as well as the Dalai Lama. 'Sarajevo does not want to be a town of the past like Troy or Pompeii,' said a journalist from the newspaper Oslobodjenje. 'We want to live.'
But is there a choice? Serbian forces are closing in at last. In the run-up to Bosnian peace talks in Geneva, where partition is the only offering on the menu, the final land grab is on. At 10.07am yesterday, seven minutes after the latest United Nations brokered ceasefire in Bosnia came into force, Serbian big guns boomed away at Zuc hill, north of the city. Two nights ago a couple sitting on their balcony opposite the Holiday Inn were blown to pieces before my eyes, when a Serbian shell blasted through the roof of their block of flats.
In a key battle, Bosnian Serb infantry almost overran Zuc hill at the weekend. The mainly Muslim Bosnians held their ground with a big loss of life, but no one is betting how many more Serbian offensives the exhausted Bosnians can repel. The UN in the city is discreetly putting out that the Serbs may take Zuc in a week, opening the way for house-to-house fighting.
From the west the Serbs are throwing their weight at Mount Igman. If that falls the only smuggling-cum-escape route will be cut, and 30,000 refugees will stream into Sarajevo's rubble-strewn streets.
Sarajevo has seen crunch moments before and survived, but this time it is different. Morale has slumped suddenly and dramatically under a combination of hunger, thirst, exhaustion and a sense of abandonment by the world. A policeman was spotted last week selling his gun for food. Armed gangs have taken over sections of the army, robbing people in the street and dragging men from their houses to dig front-line trenches. All the cafes and restaurants have been closed, killing off what survived of a once-flourishing street life.
The city bakery, Velepekara, made its last loaf on 2 July. There is flour, yeast and salt, but no fuel. The water shortage is even worse, exacerbating the spread of disease. Bedraggled queues waiting for hours with plastic buckets at outdoor wells are sitting ducks for Serbian snipers.
At the main hospital the last surgeon in the city, Anadi Begic, performs operations using a torch. A crushing blow was the flight of Borisa Starovic, a leading plastic surgeon. He slipped out of Sarajevo and joined Serbian forces attacking the city two weeks ago. Dr Begic is turning patients away. With no fuel to run the generators, the hospital has ground to a halt.
Dozens of Western leaders have toured its wards. None, it seems, left any help after the photo-sessions were over. According to Lionel Rosenblatt, of Refugees International, 'one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe has been forced back to the Middle Ages and the brink of collapse'.
Serbs bombard UN base, page 8
The Independent reported on 26 July that Borisa Starovic, a plastic surgeon in Sarajevo, had left and joined Serbian forces attacking the Bosnian capital. Professor Starovic's colleagues said this week that in fact he had been taken ill and had escaped from Sarajevo to Belgrade. He had not joined the forces attacking Bosnia's capital.Reuse content