Sarajevans walk tall as UN silences guns

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The Independent Online
ENCOURAGED by the success of his plan to silence the guns above Sarajevo, General Sir Michael Rose is planning to extend the process to other war zones in Bosnia. 'We believe the sides are now looking for peace,' said a source close to the general. 'We are trying to maintain the momentum.'

Since the Nato ultimatum on 9 February, a ceasefire has brought an unfamiliar calm to Sarajevo. Yesterday, on a bright sunny day, the streets were teeming with shoppers taking advantage of the veritable bazaar that had sprung up. There is a sense, at last, that the bombardment of Sarajevo has ended - if not the siege. The UN says the Bosnian Serbs, who have been dug in on the hills overlooking the city for 22 months, have been coerced into 'effective compliance' with Nato's ultimatum to withdraw weapons from a 20km (12-mile) exclusion zone or hand them over to peace-keepers.

However, Colonel Bill Aikman, a spokesman for the UN Protection Force (Unprofor), did admit yesterday that 'there are a lot (of guns) out there', not all of which are yet under UN control. Television pictures shot from a French UN helicopter on Monday, hours after the Nato deadline, showed cannon still sitting in the snow in clear violation of UN demands. But Col Aikman, emphasising Serbian compliance with the spirit, if not the letter, of the ultimatum, added: 'There are no aggressive operations going on.'

This might be true now, but some question the effectiveness of the UN's control of Serbian weapons. One collection site manned by the Coldstream Guards consists of one square kilometre of territory, in which at least 18 Serbian guns are scattered around a village, some still in emplacements. At least one is on a trailer hitched to a truck - the keys to which are held by the local Serbian commander. Reporters who visited the area say the British peace-keepers can only see one gun from their camp. Furthermore, should the Serbs decide to move their weapons out, the Guards are bound by the UN rules of engagement and cannot fire unless they themselves are at risk.

Such details are not the only question marks raised during this process of demilitarisation. Just stopping the slaughter is the most important step the UN has taken; Sarajevans can now walk their streets, reasonably sure of returning home alive, but when will they be able to walk someone else's streets? The ring of steel around the city is still in place, and although the UN is eager to open roads into Sarajevo, the first beneficiaries will be UN staff, particularly those involved in humanitarian operations. It seems certain the Serbs will use the issue of free access to the city as a bargaining chip at future negotiations, during the division of the spoils. And even if they play ball, the Bosnian government may balk at letting many of its people go, certainly before a final resolution of the war.

Sarajevo is likely to remain a divided city for years, under UN administration - assuming the nations gathered in New York agree to commit political, military and financial resources required to support such an operation. This will be important while the war continues elsewhere. The UN is stretched thin; of 12,000 troops in the former Yugoslavia, about one-third are tied up in Sarajevo. General Rose plans to consolidate the confiscated weapons sites to free his men for other tasks, but it seems unlikely the UN will be able to mount similiar operations in other Bosnian cities without fresh resources.

Still, General Rose is determined to build on his successes so far. 'If we can persuade people to accept this sort of exercise in Sarajevo, there is a chance we can persuade them to accept it elsewhere.'

Given the fighting throughout Bosnia, there are many other UN targets. But the calm in Sarajevo might be threatened by continued fighting. As one UN official said: 'There's no way to maintain an island of peace in a sea of war.'

Leading article, page 15

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