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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
news
News
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
science
Sport
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
News
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
i100
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Environment
Sudan, the last male northern white rhino
environmentThe death of a white northern rhino in Kenya has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
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

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells