Dignity in death costs the Muslims dear: Siege victims doubt West will mount any response and say they believe Serbs will eventually achieve their aim of division

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO - Business is mercifully quiet at the Bakije funeral home, a stone house nestling on a snowy hill near the city centre, writes Emma Daly. It stands above a crossroads with a panoramic view of the surrounding hills, where sit the soldiers who have done so much for the burial boom in the city over the past 22 months.

But all that may be changing, or so hopes Fuad Revic, who has worked at Bakije for 25 years. 'In the bad days we would have maybe 15 bodies a day,' he says. Now there are just three, only one of them - a man killed by a sniper as he shovelled snow - a casualty of war.

Mr Revic, a tall, kindly man with an air of resignation, thinks the Nato ultimatum to the Bosnian Serbs will bring at least a respite from the constant killing, but he wonders what will happen if the enemy just sits there, maintaining the siege by threat, without actually shelling, until the West gets bored with Sarajevo's story. 'Perhaps in a few months they will forget, and end the embargo (on arms to the Muslims) and then there will be a big war.' And he throws up his arms to indicate an explosion.

It costs 205 German marks to bury someone through Bakije - an expensive business in a city where a teacher earns the equivalent of DM1.5 a month and gets even that in almost-worthless dinars. But somehow people manage to pay for a decent burial.

In the workshop behind the morgue, Mr Revic's colleagues are taking advantage of the truce, and the availability of electricity, to increase their stocks. Piles of timber, some still covered in bark, crowd the lean-to shed housing a circular saw. The coffins are simple: a rough plank bottom with six inches of timber around the sides. They stopped making lids a long time ago; a luxury no one can afford.

Mr Revic said the wood came from trees in areas held by the Bosnian Muslim forces; it is hard enough to get supplies of timber, especially during the winter, but finding nails is worse. 'God provides the nails somehow,' he says, laughing. In this city you can buy almost anything, if you have German marks, either on the black market or from impoverished citizens selling their possessions.

The Bakije home has made and used around 7,000 coffins during the war, according to Mr Revic. He believes that the killing is over, he says, then pauses and adds: 'But I don't know. Now there have been three or five dead each day. Maybe in two days there will be 25 dead or 40 or 68,' the last a reference to the death-toll from the marketplace massacre that stung Nato into action.

This is a Muslim funeral home, and always has been. So is it for the religious, the believers? For the first time Mr Revic gets angry, and explains in his halting English that being 'Muslim' here is not about religion, more about tradition. In Sarajevo, he says, nobody cares if you are Muslim, Serbian, Croatian, Catholic, Orthodox. But up in the hills, 'the villagers, they are very Orthodox, they are very hard, they don't like the mix. They are teddy boys, they drink too much and they start shooting.'

He has visited London, and says that Chelsea, Piccadilly and Windsor are very beautiful. 'In London,' he says, 'you have people from all over, India, Africa, and it's okay. In Sarajevo, too. But up in the hills . . .'

Up in the hills, it is a different story.