Dismay in Sarajevo as Pope calls off visit

THE POPE yesterday called off his imminent visit to Sarajevo because of security risks, hours after Bosnian Serbs fired 11 artillery rounds at the besieged city. A statement from the Vatican said the Pope hoped to make the trip 'as soon as circumstances permitted'. President Alija Izetbegovic said he was 'deeply disappointed and saddened' by the news.

It was not unexpected. Despite the Pope's eagerness to visit, and the enthusiasm of Sarajevans to welcome him, the United Nations was reluctant to sanction the trip, saying it would be impossible to guarantee his safety or that of worshippers attending an open-air Mass. The UN special envoy, Yasushi Akashi, reportedly told the Vatican this week that the visit was too dangerous.

'Apart from not wanting to expose all the people awaiting the Pope in the Bosnian capital to serious risks, there is also the concern that the visit to Sarajevo should not be misconstrued and raise tension,' said the Vatican statement.

It was an acknowledgement that the Bosnian Serbs besieging the city were furious about the trip. The Serbs persistently refused to agree to the Pope's visit, saying they feared Bosnian government forces would shoot down the papal plane and blame the Serbs. Many Serbs loathe the Catholic church, believing it to have sided with Croatia in the war with its rebellious Serbs. Officials refer often to clerical collaboration in the Second World War with the fascist Ustashe regime, which murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs.

The veiled threats emanating over the past two weeks from Pale, the Bosnian Serb capital, were accompanied by artillery fire. 'It is a signal being given to the Pope,' said Colonel Jamie Daniels, an aide to Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, the UN commander in Bosnia. He said the news brought feelings 'of relief . . . and disappointment in some ways. It would have been a wonderful thing to do, but it was a wise decision.'

Major Koos Sol, a UN spokesman, said 11 artillery rounds were fired from Bosnian Serb territory on to the front line in the suburb of Sanac. Two UN planes were also hit by small arms fire near Sarajevo airport, almost certainly in violation of the heavy weapons exclusion zone imposed around Sarajevo by Nato. However, it is unlikely the UN will call in air strikes against the weapon. 'It is a historical event now, and we'll do our best to investigate it,' Col Daniels said.

Although explosions are heard often in the city, it was the first time the Serbs have fired so many shells in one go since the ultimatum was imposed in February.

Despite the high level of tension in the city - frequent machine- gun fire along suburban front lines, sniper fire, and shooting at UN planes - preparations for the papal visit were well under way. Workers and peace-keepers laboured to remove war debris from Zetra stadium, the Olympic speed- skating rink where the Pope was to have said mass, and to build a stage with wood foraged from the presidency.

A choir of Catholic teenagers practised songs of welcome; officials mobilised to deal with hundreds of visiting journalists; the UN flew in the bullet-proof Popemobile; and the police, dressed in new pale green uniforms rather than their usual ratty camouflage, stepped up patrols along the main airport road, otherwise known as Sniper Alley.

Sarajevans of all religious groups will be bitterly disappointed by the Vatican's decision. Self-declared atheists and practising Muslims, lapsed Orthodox and devout Catholics looked forward to the visit. Many hoped the Pope would help to bring peace. But it always seemed unlikely the Pontiff would get to Sarajevo. The risks were high.

'Sarajevo will remain Sarajevo,' Commander Eric Chaperon, a UN spokesman, said yesterday morning. 'There is a risk for everyone here.' The city which lives with that danger every day had hoped the media spotlight on the Pope would change all that.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform