Fighters defy the world - 'We are ready to die'

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The Independent Online
WHEN news of the Bosnian Serb parliament's decision yesterday reached the 'Chetnik Cafe', a log cabin outpost on Trebevic mountain whose machine guns look down menacingly on Sarajevo's eastern suburbs, there was jubilation. It was the result the soldiers on the front line had been praying for. Overwhelmed by emotion, they fired their guns into the air in celebration.

'We were hoping they would not sign and we support their decision,' said a 29-year-old soldier who chose to identify himself only as 'Chetnik', the name taken by the nationalist guerrillas of the Second World War. 'I don't think there is any Serb soldier in Bosnia who would support signing Vance-Owen.'

Inside the cabin the soldier trained his gun on the city just a few hundred yards below, before sitting down to tell a group of journalists of his pleasure. Let Nato intervene, he said; its forces could not defeat the Serbs from the air. True, some people would die, maybe even his own family, 'but whatever happens to other families, let it happen to mine as well,' he said.

On the other side of the Bosnian mountains, in the factory where Chetnik used to work before the war, General Dusan Kovacevic, the Bosnian Serb Defence Minister, was attending the first anniversary of Bosnian Serb television. When asked about his parliament's vote, he echoed the soldier's sentiments: 'We are all worried about a possible military intervention but we are all ready to die if necessary.'

The Bosnian Serbs' vote put them on a collision course with the international community and their patron in Belgrade, the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic.

After backing their fight against Muslims and Croats for more than a year - suppling them with food and fuel, filling their heads with a sense of invincibility - Mr Milosevic has discovered like Dr Frankenstein that the monster he created is beyond his control.

At one point during the assembly's session he was reported to have told the delegates: 'I really don't know what you want. Izetbegovic (the Bosnian Muslim leader) lost the war. His only hope is to provoke outside military intervention. . . . What we have won cannot be put at stake like drunken poker players.'

Mr Milosevic is considered the master Balkan politican. As one observer said: 'You don't tell Milosevic 'no' and survive politically.' But he cannot just sweep the Bosnian Serb leadership aside. They are independent-minded, well organised and powerful. More important, they think outside military intervention is far less frightening than living alongside their enemies under the peace plan.

That was recognised by Dr Karadzic: 'My people are in a very dangerous state of mind. They are ready for sacrifice. I can say this as a psychiatrist: they think as a people, not as individuals.'