Memories of a massacre hang in the air

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The Independent Online
'WE CAN'T forget because peace is on paper, but not in their hearts,' said Mirsad, a Bosnian army (BiH) officer, pointing down towards the Lasva valley and the former Croat pocket round Vitez from the lofty vantage point of his base camp.

A year ago, the massacre of Muslim civilians in the village of Ahmici, 2km away, marked the start of a Muslim-Croat war, which has now ended as suddenly as it began. Softening a little, Mirsad added: 'We hope that some of the Croats will realise they were wrong.'

It was a sunny Good Friday morning, and peace was in the air. Our UN patrol of British Light Dragoons was driving along the Muslim-Croat ceasefire line, to ensure trenches were empty and heavy weapons handed in. Thursday's news from New York that the UN will only deploy another 3,700 troops to monitor the ceasefires in Sarajevo and central Bosnia, rather than the 8,500 requested, has not depressed the UN command here too much.

The British sector commander, Brigadier John Reith, says the remarkable success of the ceasefires means he can switch troops from escorting convoys to policing the peace.

The end of Muslim-Croat fighting means that people can move across the former front lines, through UN checkpoints. Brigadier Reith wants complete freedom of movement. The locals had ' real difficulty' with the idea, he said. So, as an interim measure, 100 people a day are allowed through the crossing points, carrying reasonable amounts of personal goods and gifts.

The last real fighting in this area was around 50 days ago. UN sources say about 30 per cent of heavy weapons have been surrendered.

The first that Mirsad's soldiers knew of the Muslim- Croat deal on a Bosnian federation was from television and radio. But soon the UN appeared, organising joint patrols, with Bosnian army and Croatian HVO guides working together to map the ceasefire line and, most important, the minefields. 'Keep to the vehicle track marks,' warned one of the dragoons. 'There could be mines anywhere.'

But the Muslim-Croat peace could have a dangerous spin- off. There are still Bosnian army commanders who think that, freed of the need to fight the Croats, they are in a position to have another go at the Serbs.