Ray of light in darkened city: Electricity and water supplies ease life in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
THE TRAPPED people of Sarajevo could scarcely believe their luck. For a few luxurious hours on Thursday night and yesterday morning, electric power was restored to their city for the first time in almost three months.

Not every district of Sarajevo benefitted from this miracle. But for some people at least, the temporary return of electric light provided a chance to depart from the wearisome routine of washing, eating and walking from room to room in the dark. A very fortunate few own torches, but the batteries are expensive and in short supply. Others have tried to stock up on candles. But many Sarajevans have had no choice this summer but to sit at home in total darkness at night while the crackle of sniper fire and the occasional boom of a mortar explosion echos around them.

With the reappearence of electricity there came a little running water, too. Instantly people put their plugs in their baths and turned on the taps. It was cold water, naturally. But a well filled bath provides enough water for days, even weeks of washing, cleaning clothes and flushing toilets.

Lieutenant Colonel Tricia Purves, a British information officer with the UN forces in Bosnia, said that electricity had returned briefly to Sarajevo because engineers had restored power lines running through central Bosnia from Konjic and Kakanj to the capital. But she said Sarajevo's distribution system was in such disrepair that residents would continue to lack normal electricity supplies for a long time. 'It's enough to keep the central emergency services and water system going, but we are a long way from full power supplies,' she said.

The Bosnia government blames the absence of electricity and running water partly on Serbian forces who have besieged the capital for 17 months, but also on Croatians whose alliance with the Muslims collapsed earlier this year, provoking clashes in central Bosnia that have destroyed supply lines. 'If we can get electricity into the city and have a situation where nobody plays political games with electricity, then there is no reason why the citizens of Sarajevo shouldn't have clean water. We need everyone to stop using utilities as a weapon of war,' Colonel Purves said.

The grim conditions in Sarajevo have eased marginally in the last eight days with the delivery of five tons of fuel to the city's Kosevo hospital on 13 August and the anticipated arrival of another five tons today . In addition, teams working for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees have managed to send in convoys of aid by road, both from Metkovic in southern Croatia and from Belgrade.

The main relief effort is still the airlift of supplies from Ancona, Italy, and Split on Croatia's Adriatic coast. Peter Kessler, a UNHCR spokesman, said the airlifts were now providing between 70 and 80 per cent of Sarajevo's needs compared with 60 per cent a few weeks ago. 'We are getting more food on the planes, but we still haven't built up stocks for this winter,' he said.

The regular arrival of food-laden aircraft is, according to UN military personnel in Sarajevo, one reason why it is inappropriate to describe the city as under siege. But such arguments cut little ice with the Bosnian government and armed forces, and indeed most people in Sarajevo, who regard the UN's forces contemptuously as apologists for the Serbs.

'There is still a siege until the Serbs withdraw to a point where they cannot attack Sarajevo, where there are normal water, electricity and gas supplies, and where there is free movement of people and commercial traffic,' said General Jovan Divljak, Bosnia's deputy army commander.