Families count cost of war as Bosnian bridge reopens: Divided Sarajevo takes first steps back to unity, but Ankara's offer of peace-keepers threatens to worsen row with Greece

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The Independent Online
TWO elderly men, one a Serb, one a Muslim, both Sarajevans, both seeking the sons they had not seen for two years, set off yesterday from opposite ends of the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity - the Yugoslav phrase that now rings so hollow in Sarajevo - to cross the front line over the Miljacka river that has divided the city and its families for so long. For one, it was a dream come true; for the other, the realisation of a nightmare.

A yellow ribbon and rolls of razor-wire split the pavement into two channels for the 41 people allowed by the authorities - the Bosnian government in the city centre, the Bosnian Serbs in the suburb of Grbavica - to walk freely across the heavily fortified bridge for the first time since the war began. The heavy UN presence, the bullet- scarred buildings on both river banks, and the tension among the crowd waiting nearby testified to the bridge's recent history as the hunting ground for snipers.

The limited civilian traffic - involving only women, children and men past retirement age - across the bridge, across the airport and across Bosnian Serb territory to the government-held town of Visoko, was meant to lift confidence in the ceasefire and contribute to the normalisation of life here. But the two Serbian flags raised on the bridge yesterday morning, beside the provocative signs reading 'Republic of Serbia Border Crossing New Sarajevo', emphasised the Bosnian Serbs' determination to portray an internal checkpoint as an international frontier, and to set in stone the division of the city.

Still, the freedom of movement agreement does force a chink in the Bosnian Serb armour that has encircled the city since April 1992, and having let a chosen few cross yesterday, both sides may find it impossible to contain the flood. 'This is the beginning of the end of a madhouse I will never understand,' said Borislav Cuk, 68, who was first to cross from Grbavica and who had an emotional reunion with his elder son, Drazenko, 40, to the applause of around 1,000 people gathered near the bridge. And then he went to visit his younger son Goran, 30, a thin, dark man who was left partially paralysed after being hit by a shell on the front in Stup on 11 February 1993.

'Oh my son, my son, are you OK?' Mr Cuk wept as he hugged Goran, who now drags his left leg awkwardly, whose left hand now sits uselessly and limply in his lap. 'I'm very happy,' said Goran, his eyes dulled by pain or drugs, his frame shrunken by his injuries - there is still a piece of shrapnel lodged in his brain. 'I knew that my father would be the first one across the bridge.' Mr Cuk nodded. 'Two days ago I got into a line that was not so long and because I'm a very big and strong man I pushed around and suddenly I was at the front.'

Mr Cuk, whose Muslim wife, Zejika, was 'a bit afraid' of staying alone in Grbavica, will return home today, but hopes for many more visits in the future. No such comfort remains for Hasan Begic, a 66-year-old Muslim who waited on the north bank, impatient to see Edhem, the son he last heard from in December.

'He has no idea I'm coming,' said Mr Begic, who was expelled from his home, adding: 'I'm not scared (to return).' On 13 September 1992, Bosnian Serb soldiers came to Mr Begic's house and told him he had 10 minutes to leave Grbavica. But they refused to let him take Braco (his 43-year-old son's nickname) to Sarajevo, despite the fact that, according to his father, Braco is '100 per cent an invalid'. 'There was no explanation,' Mr Begic said. 'I can only suppose that younger people were not allowed to cross.'

He strode across the bridge, and, like Mr Cuk, looked straight ahead all the way. But a few minutes later he was back where he had started, the hope in his eyes killed by the news that Braco had been shot dead by a sniper on 11 January. 'There is nothing there any more that I'm looking for,' Mr Begic said, and walked away.