Bosnian Serbs adjust to new order

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The Independent Online
AN UNFAMILIAR calm reigns in central Bosnia, the Muslim-Croat war having ended with astonishing speed. Serb shells landing on Travnik yesterday could be heard in Vi tez, as the Serbs retaliated for Muslim-led Bosnian army attacks to the north of the town.

The Serbs have also shelled the 'safe area' of Gorazde heavily in the last couple of days, killing six people and wounding nearly 100. They have moved artillery withdrawn from the exclusion zone round Sarajevo to attack Gorazde, but UN observers do not believe this is the beginning of any great spring offensive by either the Bosnian army, its hands now free of the war with the Croats, or by the Serbs. Everybody has much to gain from peace, and there is real hope that the Serbs will soon be brought further into the peace process.

In the last few days the British UN troops who have moved up into Maglaj, hitherto isolated by the Muslim-Croat war, have for the first time run up against the Serbs. A few days ago the Serbs fired on a British patrol, which fired back. They fired again, so the British fired the main 30mm gun of their Warrior armoured vehicles, bracketing the bunker: three short, three over. The Serbs kept firing. The British hit the bunker directly with three rounds.

On Wednesday, the Serbs fired a shot at the British in Maglaj again. A burst of fire was returned. Brigadier John Reith, Parachute Regiment officer in command of 7,000 UN troops, said: 'The Serbs have to learn they're dealing with the big boys. They haven't experienced this before.'

It is now possible to move almost freely across former Muslim-Croat battle lines, where smart UN checkpoints have replaced the road-blocks at which cigarettes, batteries, and the right paperwork were demanded. East Mostar is now again in contact with the world. The Croats were strangling and blasting it to destruction. Brigadier Reith's engineers have been to the remains of the Stari Most, the 16th-century Ottoman bridge, and found the two main piers were intact. Their opinion: 'It can be rebuilt.' And if Dubrovnik is anything to go by, Brigadier Reith said yesterday, it will be.

When the peace agreement between the Bosnian Croats and the Muslims first took hold, Mostar saw plenty of ceasefire violations. But yesterday there were just two or three. Spanish troops, under Brigadier Reith's overall command, who used to crouch in armoured vehicles, now patrol in east Mostar - on foot.

But local gangsters appear to be coming out of the woodwork. A group with fascist inclinations, known as the jokeri, who wear Batman-style joker flashes on black uniforms, are believed to be responsible for a number of attacks in violation of the ceasefire.

Restoring normality to people's lives is vital. There are two main power systems, the hydroelectric power in Herzegovina and the coal-fired power from the Kakanj area of Bosnia. A break in the power lines at Kakanj is expected to be repaired by tomorrow, but in the most difficult area, near Zepce and the newly reopened Maglaj area, the power lines have suffered heavy damage.

Brigadier Reith reckons he has just enough troops to monitor this miraculous ceasefire. He is keen to shift responsibility to the civilian authorities as soon as possible and makes a point of driving around in an unarmoured vehicle, unarmed.

'I'm encouraging people to look less military. It's all part of the symbolism,' he said.