Cafe thrives on Serb smugglers' woes

BUSINESS is booming at the Karalije cafe. Ever since President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia imposed a blockade on his erstwhile client warlords in Bosnia, the cafe on the border crossing at Sremska Raca has had a captive market, so to speak.

Under the regulations of the embargo, introduced on 4 August, lorry traffic from Serbia into Bosnia can only cross via the rickety railway bridge at Sremska Raca. Only food, clothes, medicine and humanitarian aid are allowed to cross. There are long queues of coaches, cars and lorries that must be subjected to lengthy searches of boots, bonnets and trailer beds.

While truckers and passengers wait for permission to cross, the Karalije is packing them in. It is a place for truckers and smugglers to gulp down a meal, ply customs officers with drink, and, if that fails, a place to complain. The cafe offers cold beer, strong coffee and, from its veranda, a view of perhaps the most thorough customs inspection in the Balkans.

President Milosevic, keen to get sanctions against his country lifted, has gone to great lengths to show that unlike past so-called blockades of the Bosnian Serbs for their defiance of international demands, this time he means business. Units of the powerful, 80,000-strong, police force have fanned out along the boundaries of the rump Yugoslavia. Police and customs officials with relatives in Bosnia have been transferred to jobs away from the border. All but a few telephone links with the Serb-held areas of Bosnia have been cut.

Mr Milosevic has told United Nations officials that the closure of Serbia's border with Serbian- held areas of Bosnia was a policy that would remain in place until the Bosnian Serb leadership accepted the latest international peace plan. He has even accepted, despite criticism, the deployment of international observers in Serbia to verify the embargo.

Nonetheless, last week the US Secretary of Defense, William Perry, cast doubt on the sincerity of Serbia's efforts to cut off fuel and arms supplies to the Bosnian Serb army. He suggested that the embargo was leaking badly. Based on 'incomplete reports', Admiral Perry said the blockade was not a 'complete stoppage'.

At a table on the veranda of the Karalije cafe this weekend, two men watched with a hint of satisfaction as Serbian customs officers sniffed coca cola bottles and watering cans in a quest for illegal petrol. The men, obviously foreigners, with baseball caps, bum bags and overnight luggage, looked more like tourists than international spies, which is more or less what they are. They are some of the 135 international observers, whose report on the effectiveness of the embargo will determine whether the UN eases trade sanctions against Serbia.

All the observers are ostensibly from humanitarian organisations. But many are ex-military men with experience in the former Yugoslavia. Some admit privately - because they are not supposed to speak to the press - that they were UN military observers at some time in their careers.

The observers are cautious about reaching a conclusion. But they say their impression is that the embargo is serious and that if there is any leakage, it is unlikely to have been officially sanctioned.

'I'm optimistic that the embargo is being enforced,' one senior member of the observer mission said. 'I have not seen anything that indicates there is any great danger. However, we have not been everywhere.'

The history of the Serbian- Bosnian border is rife with tales of smuggling. It is unlikely that any blockade will ever prove to be watertight along all 350 miles of rivers and mountains.

But it is also unlikely that the customs officers outside the Karalije have cracked down on fellow Serbs for the benefit of outside observers. Even the police officers who dare to utter to foreign journalists criticism of the President's decision say they would not dare to ignore it. 'It is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, but orders are orders,' one officer on the border at Mali Zvornik said.

Judging from conversations overheard at the Karalije this weekend, these are black days for Serbian smugglers. 'This is more serious all the time,' one unshaven truck driver told his friends in a thick Bosnian accent, after a car with illegal petrol was turned back. 'We have to be very careful now. We just can't transport our stolen goods anymore, like we did before.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea