At last, Sarajevo basks in luxury of electric light

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The Independent Online
The guns along Bosnia's front lines were due to fall silent at one minute past midnight last night, after natural gas and electricity began flowing to Sarajevo, the precondition for a 60-day ceasefire.

The government declared itself satisfied with the restoration of utilities to the capital yesterday, paving the way for a meeting last night to formalise the truce. But the darkest facet of the war - the ethnic cleansing of Serb-held areas - accelerated before the truce, after which the parties are supposed to treat prisoners and civilians "humanely".

"As far as we are concerned, utilities are restored," said Jim Landale, a UN spokesman in Sarajevo. A Bosnian minister, Hasan Muratovic, said the government would meet the rebel Serbs at Sarajevo airport last night, after which "we will proclaim the full implementation of the agreement and our army will receive an order for a total ceasefire".

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said 8,000 to 9,000 Muslims were facing expulsion across the front line to central Bosnia. Some 650 refugees, with their tales of horror, were expelled from the northern town of Sanski Most by paramilitaries loyal to Zeljko Raznatovic, the notorious warlord known as Arkan.

Kris Janowski of the UNHCR in Sarajevo said those expelled told stories of rape, robbery and torture, and of being detained without food in a makeshift camp as their men were taken away. Before the war, more than 500,000 Muslims and Croats lived in the Banja Luka area; fewer than 20,000 remain, and Mr Janowski said 8,000 to 9,000 Muslims may be expelled in the next few days.

Once the ceasefire is in place, the UN may at last win access to northern Bosnia, where heavy fighting has reduced Serb holdings in the past few weeks. The peace-keepers will need freedom of movement along front lines to monitor the truce and report violations. At present, Sarajevo is probably the only front-line area where the UN has a decent view.

Much of Sarajevo's Old Town sank into darkness last night, but the city centre and parts of the new town were enjoying the delights of (heavily restricted) power supplies, and even, in some privileged areas, water. As was the case before the Serbs cut off electricity in May, residents are allowed to use only a few watts - enough to power a television set, a couple of lights and a stove, but no heating - hence the vital importance of gas supplies as winter approaches.

"The city is in the process of being completely gassed up," said Gordon Hay of the British Overseas Development Administration. "It is actually flowing into houses at the moment in the centre of the city and the new part of town ... it is hoped that the whole city will be on by tonight."

The ODA engineers were promising a constant supply rather than the 24 hours on, 24 hours off Sarajevans were accustomed to. And the gas now smells, which should cut the number of explosions. In the past, as pressure fluctuated and pilot lights failed, odourless gas built up until some unfortunate householder lit a match.

"We've lived in the dark for so long," Bosiljka Maraus said, her eyes filling with tears, as the lights went on. "I don't know what to do first ... I will cook something, then I will clean the flat." City streets filled with the hum of vacuum cleaners and the sound of music yesterday - though most people, like Mrs Maraus, did the chores first, fearing the supply would cut out after three or four hours.