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)

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried