Sarajevans resigned to partition of their city

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The Independent Online
THE SUN broke through the clouds above Sarajevo yesterday, giving the snowy city a sparkle few of its residents shared as the clock ticked towards Nato's deadline of 1am (midnight GMT) for the Bosnian Serbs besieging the city.

Some 400 Russian soldiers, led by the commander of Moscow's airborne troops, arrived in the city yesterday, and are expected to take up a frontline position in Grbavica, a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo - much to the anger of the Bosnian government, which is sceptical of Russian neutrality. People in the city were not reassured by reports that the Russian advance party drove into Pale, site of the Bosnian Serb headquarters, giving the three- fingered Serbian salute.

However, Vitaly Churkin, the Russian President's envoy, said he had assured President Alija Izetbegovic that his men would act 'in an objective and disciplined manner'. In return, he asked for reassurance that Bosnia forces would take no action 'to aggravate the risks facing our soldiers'.

There appears to have been some tension between Nato and the United Nations over the possible use of air strikes; while the UN has stressed the Serbs' compliance, Nato has continued to talk tough. On this issue, Mr Churkin appeared to ally himself firmly with the UN. Asked about any Western bombing mission he replied: 'If your goal is air strikes I'm quite certain that some pretext can be found to deliver them.'

This did not impress some Bosnians, who pointed out that such a pretext - for example, the presence of artillery within the exclusion zone - could only come as a result of Bosnian Serb failure to move their guns.

President Izetbegovic refused to accept the snowstorms cited by Yasushi Akashi, the UN Secretary- General's special representative in the area, as a reason for the Serbs' not meeting the deadline in full. 'This excuse does not stand, because they knew very well about the weather conditions and they had not been doing anything for seven days,' he said. 'So they are guilty for not doing this on time.'.

Mr Churkin conceded there was an 'outside chance' of air strikes, but added: 'I think it's not in Nato's interest at all. They are committed to a political solution.'

Sarajevans seemed to agree with Mr Churkin's assessment. 'We've already prepared a place to sleep if there are air strikes,' said Amira Gubeljic, sitting in the small, cold room that she shares with her husband, Haris, and their two young sons. 'It was a kitchen, and it's very cold but it's hidden from all sides - you see, this building has no basement.' But Mr Gubeljic added: 'I can't believe it will happen.' His wife disagreed but that, he says, is because she watches television. She replied: 'It's because I don't believe the Serbs will give up all the weapons they have.'

Most citizens would agree with that, but few now share her faith in any Western response. Most seem resigned instead to the eventual partition of their city. 'I don't know if it's the end of the war - maybe it is - but it's obvious they're going to divide us. We'll be like Nicosia,' she said. Frustrated, she added: 'Even if the Serbs respect Nato's ultimatum, Sarajevo will still be under siege because we'll have Unprofor around us and the Serbs around them.'

As she spoke, a young couple walked past, throwing snowballs that were enthusiastically, if fruitlessly, chased by a small black poodle dressed in a yellow jacket. Being Sunday, the streets were quieter, but still active with people performing the usual Sarajevo tasks, such as fetching water from a public tap. At the Gubeljics' house, Alen, their six-year-old son, burst in to announce the bread supplies had arrived. He returned later with a loaf and a half of bread, the family's rations for the day.

Sitting in the dank flat, the stove in one corner and the washing in another, his parents talked about life under siege. Mr Gubeljic was worried, waiting to return that afternoon to his military unit. He was wounded fighting in Dobrinja, but he is better now, so he is returning to the frontline for his next 48-hour shift. He is a Muslim, his wife is Croatian, and both have Serbian relatives. Their joint family tree is a hotch-potch of nationalities and religions that makes a mockery of the game of ethnic divisions in Bosnia.

Their walls are bare, save for a poster of the pop group New Kids on the Block; their cupboard is almost bare but they are elated because they have been told a package has arrived from his parents, refugees in Denmark. 'It will be like Christmas and Ramadan and everything,' said Mr Gubeljic. His wife smokes constantly, pulling local cigarettes from a packet made of old newsprint. But he is fasting for Ramadan so cannot indulge in a habit he picked up during the war.

Instead, he shows us black-and- white photographs of himself and his comrades; on his first day, slumped in a chair, dressed in civvies; later, smart in a uniform, shaking hands with Mr Izetbegovic, who was visiting the troops.

Mr Gubeljic said he had lost his home; his family had no clothes and no money. But he said they did not need those things. 'We are strong. We have learnt.' Leading article, page 15

(Photograph and map omitted)