Saving Sarajevo: Sarajevans dismiss 'apartheid in the middle of Europe': The news from Geneva elicits mainly contempt, Marcus Tanner writes from Sarajevo

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'UNITED Republics of Bosnia?' snorted one Sarajevan as he scanned the headlines of Oslobodjenje for the latest news from the Bosnian peace talks in Geneva. 'It sounds like United Colours of Benetton. That's the plan - we are the United Republic of Benetton]'

Most people did not get as far as reading a newspaper. Close to its 50th birthday, Oslobodjenje is so short of fuel that only a few copies a day can be printed. Instead, Sarajevans depend on a new source of information - billboards with a few headlines scrawled in felt-tip pasted up in the main street.

The Bosnian army leaders on television say there will be no capitulation before the partition plans of Lord Owen or the Serbs. 'We will fight to the last drop of blood before accepting partition of Bosnia,' is a standard refrain. But hardly anyone in Sarajevo hears this stirring talk. Electricity is on for only a few hours each evening. Ironically, more people are said to tune into Bosnian television on the Serbian side of the barricades. Bosnian TV shows better films, apparently.

In war-weary Sarajevo, what is left of the chattering classes - writers, musicians, directors, priests and Imams - form public opinion on matters of state. From her front-page column in Oslobodjenje, ethnic Serb Gordana Knezevic, a self-proclaimed spokeswoman for 'anti-fascist Serbs', forms more opinions than most. 'United Republics of Bosnia is complete rubbish,' she scoffed. 'This means apartheid in the middle of Europe - a bargain with ethnic-based fascism. Once you start paying the blackmailer you never stop.'

Ms Knezevic backs any peace plan, for a unitary Bosnia or even for ethnic partition, but only if it is enforced from outside, and not left to local warlords. 'I wish desperately for this war to end and to see more of my three children,' she said. 'But I am convinced Geneva is on the wrong road.'

The rest of the population are busy fighting, wheeling plastic cans to wells on supermarket trolleys in search of water, or arguing over the price of the marrows and lettuces which enterprising Sarajevans have grown on their balconies and are now selling on the street.

They are more interested in tuning into a 'war recipes' programme on Bosnian radio than commentaries from Geneva. It explains how to bake a cake out of the slender contents of a United Nations food parcel, how to make a herb garden, why you should not catch and cook Sarajevo pigeons - they carry diseases.

Most people pass round used copies of Oslobodjenje, not for the political propaganda, but for the daily basement article on war tips. Yesterday it explained how to cut out and make what was called a 'Cheops pyramid' from UN cardboard packaging. It is useful one way up for straining Sarajevo's polluted water, and, pointed another way up, for storing food. 'Our thanks to engineer Halido Berkamovic for submitting this idea,' it read.

The authorities have tried to concentrate public attention on the need to continue the war by closing down all the fun places. Seals have been slapped on the front doors of the private cafes, covered with notices warning of horrendous penalties if they are removed. Try as they might, a section of Sarajevo will never give up their amusements - even if the city is falling to the Serbs. Some cafes are closed at the front door but open at the back.

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