Car crash reveals a Sarajevo secret

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO (AP) - It takes a car crash to discover a secret of this besieged capital: bureaucracy lives, even in wartime.

Zooming along an alleyway at 40mph to avoid sniper fire, an AP photographer, Jockel Finck, and an AP correspondent, John Pomfret, ploughed into the side of a car driven by a slightly intoxicated Bosnian militiaman. No one was hurt, but the incident began a three-hour ordeal complete with anti-aircraft fire, mortar shells, a plodding police officer, a little extortion and a confiscated passport. It all began on Tuesday afternoon. Mirko Kurilic lunched with three militia friends and they drank three bottles of wine.

Mr Kurilic then headed his car towards Sarajevo's Cathedral. At an intersection Mr Finck crashed into him. Glass and expletives flew. So did rounds from an anti- aircraft gun on a hill above the city, raining bullets as big as carrots upon the intersection. Both AP journalists cowered. The militiamen strutted and sniggered.

Mr Finck's suggestion that everyone leave the scene was rebuffed. 'We have to follow procedures,' Mr Kurilic said. The cars had to stay in the dangerous intersection to await a policeman. Bursts of gunfire again echoed nearby. A policeman arrived. 'Papers, please,' he said. A mortar exploded near enough to shake the earth. The policeman spoke.

'You are the guilty party,' he told Mr Finck. Mr Kurilic had an idea. 'Maybe you can give us 4,000 German marks ( pounds 1,380),' he suggested. Mr Finck declined.

Finally the policeman said he would hold on to Mr Finck's passport for a night and then he would have to pay a fine. 'Or maybe no fine at all.' But paperwork existed. 'What was your mother's maiden name?' he asked, looking up from his form.

(Photograph omitted)