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
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?