Serbians' fighting talk lays siege to the symbolism of Sarajevo

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The Dayton agreement is supposed to restore the physical unity of Bosnia- Herzegovina, and in particular of Sarajevo. But the most significant and symbolic issue of the peace negotiations will almost certainly be the hardest to enact on the ground.

Sarajevo, promised Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, "will be unified. Checkpoints and closed bridges will no longer divide the families of that city."

Under the deal agreed this week, the Bosnian government will assume control of Ilidza, Grbavica, Ilijas, Vogosca and Hadzici, roughly north and west of Sarajevo and the heartland of the siege waged against the city.

Residents have a different idea."Ilidza will never be Muslim," Dragan, a Bosnian Serb policeman, said fiercely. "Too many people have died." Milenko Djukic, a civilian who fled his home in Sarajevo in February 1993, agreed. "It has always been Serb and it will always remain. Many people have been killed here, many young men, and we cannot leave their graves."

No one seems sure how "I-For" (the Nato Implementation Force) is to persuade such citizens otherwise, nor even of how strong a level of control the government side is supposed to exercise over its new Serb dominions.

Are French or American soldiers to persuade the Serbs to surrender their weapons and accept a new life in harmony with their neighbours, albeit at the point of a gun? Or will the world settle for nominal political control, perhaps securing main roads out for local traffic but opting to go extremely slowly on the return of refugees from Sarajevo to its Serb-held suburbs and vice versa?

A peaceful reintegration may mean that the huge majority of Serbs leave rather than live under government rule.

At present, Sarajevans from the government side can drive through Ilidza with a UN escort; a few (mostly women, children and the elderly) from both sides can, if they have completed a bureaucratic maze, cross the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity linking Grbavica to the city centre. Travel restrictions may ease - under the watchful eyes of the peace-keepers.

But how to build sufficient trust to enable freer movement? Most residents on the government side say they want to live with "good" Serbs, those who have committed no war crimes. In Ilidza, such distinctions are dismissed. "What will they think of me?" asked Dragan. "I have been in Ilidza since the start of the war defending my home. Will I be a 'good' Serb or a 'bad' one? Who will judge?"

Among the Serbs interviewed close to the front line there was no desire to share anything with Muslims or Croats. "Sarajevo must be divided into a Serb part and a Muslim part, with nothing for the Croats," Mr Djukic said.

Clearly, some of the anguish and hostility stems from an acknowledgement that the Bosnian Serbs have watched victory slip from their grasp; like their enemies on the government side, they complain of an "unjust peace". Only the people of Bosnia - and their politicians - can create a modus vivendi; I-For has the unenviable task of ensuring that the sense of defeat does not spawn actions of suicidal revenge.