The Rose show brings 10,000 football fans to their feet

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The Independent Online
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THOUSANDS of Sarajevans poured into the Olympic stadium yesterday, in clear sight of the Bosnian Serb front lines, to see their football team beat a United Nations side 4-0 in a spectacular sign of local people's growing confidence in the six-week ceasefire. In one of the most surreal scenes since the truce began, the band of the Coldstream Guards in their scarlet tunics and bearskins marched across the pitch playing In the Mood to start the show.

'It's so cool to see all these people here,' said Ana Pejovic, a 17-year-old who had painted her face red and white - the colours of FC Sarajevo - and plastered sequins on her cheeks. Shouting above the chants of a dedicated band of fans, she admitted she was 'a little afraid' the Serbs might attack the stadium but 'I hope they won't'. And they did not, remaining silent in their positions on the hills overlooking the pitch and on the lines behind the shell-marked hospital just outside the stadium walls.

Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia, who seized the opportunity offered by the market bombing in February to bring the warring factions to a truce, described the day as 'a very joyous occasion'. At half-time he told the British band: 'The symbol you have set by playing in Sarajevo straight from the forecourt of Buckingham Palace will send a signal to the world that the peace process here in Sarajevo will extend to the far corners of the troubled land of Bosnia.'

The process certainly moved forward yesterday with the news that a UN convoy had entered the besieged Muslim enclave of Maglaj. After weeks of obstinacy from Bosnian Serbs attacking the pocket, the UN yesterday sent six aid trucks, escorted by Warrior armoured vehicles and Scimitar light tanks, in to feed thousands of people trapped in the area. 'It's a very great achievement,' said General Rose, whose troops have been monitoring the area for weeks. 'We saw an opportunity and we developed it.'

A mixture of diplomatic and military pressure, including Nato jets flying low over Bosnian Serb positions, and a stream of letters from General Rose to the Bosnian Serb leadership pressing for action on Maglaj, forced the Serbs to back down and allow the convoy to pass. Now the UN is offering both sides a 'Sarajevo solution' - the freezing of front lines around Maglaj and the Serb-held town of Doboj, and an end to artillery attacks.

'It's been a very good day,' the general said as the game drew to a close - and he had reason to be pleased. The atmosphere was festive among the 10,000 spectators, and one of the loudest cheers of the day came when four British soldiers with blue UN parachutes jumped into the stadium from a UN helicopter, trailing clouds of orange smoke.

The UN Protection Force (Unprofor) team, which met only a couple of days ago, was resigned to defeat before the game, although the Dutch captain, Eric 'Coco' Murer, an F-16 pilot based in Kiseljak, tried to put on a brave face. 'We've got a fair chance - no, really,' he said. 'I'm going to play the Russian forward - he can't talk to us but he can make goals.'

Dr Zeljke Ler, an epidemiologist at Sarajevo state hospital who was helping out as team doctor for FC Sarajevo, said he 'felt really great, to see this after two years . . . The last time they played was 28 March 1992 (one week before war broke out). I think this is one of the signs peace is coming.' He explained that FC Sarajevo was fielding its second team - whose members remained in the city throughout the siege - rather than the first team, who returned from a year in exile last week, 'as a kind of honour' for those who stayed behind.

Even the B team was more than a match for the peace-keeping eleven, getting four goals past Anthony McBean, who was drafted in from General Rose's HQ in Sarajevo. But it took the home side 30 minutes to break through the UN defence, the first goal bringing roars of applause, cheers and streamers from the crowd.

In central Bosnia, UN officials said a British peace-keeper was killed on Saturday while on duty near Stari Vitez. Corporal Barney Warburton, 27, was killed while preparing to detonate surrendered explosives. The Ministry of Defence said it appeared to be an accident, possibly caused by a landmine.

(Photographs omitted)

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