Saving Sarajevo: Talk of lifting siege won't wash

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SARAJEVO - While the world talked of air strikes to lift the Serb siege of Sarajevo, Merima Nisic got on with her washing and scoffed.

Washday has become a humiliating and dangerous chore for the 36-year-old mother of two: a dash across a bridge exposed to sniper fire and down steps to the polluted Miljacka River where she must slap her clothes clean on a stone.

After 16 months of siege, most homes in the Bosnian capital no longer have piped water to fill washing machines or electricity to power them.

Like many other men and women standing ankle deep in the murky water, downstream from a large waste pipe, Nisic believes a Nato threat of air strikes against Bosnian Serbs if they continue to 'strangle' Sarajevo is just more hot air.

'Everybody has cheated us. If they wanted to help they would have done it already,' she said.

The make-up on her face and her smart T-shirt and shorts showed an effort to retain some pride amid the indignity of daily life in what used to be a modern and prosperous city.

'The world treats Muslims like savages,' she said. 'Do I look like a savage? We are primitive now because we have to be here.'

A few yards away Aleksander and Radmila Sadikovic, married last year on 4 July, wrung out their washing in their swimming costumes and joined in the conversation. 'Say hello to Clinton,' shouted Aleksander, a 23- year-old soldier in the Muslim- led Bosnian army. 'Tell him I hope he has to do his washing in this sewer and tell him to have a good meal for me.'

More seriously, he added: 'We sincerely want air strikes to happen as soon as possible. Then we can clean things up with the Serbs. But I don't believe they will happen.'

The Nato Secretary-General, Manfred Worner, said yesterday that the alliance was making immediate plans for air strikes if the Serbs continued their 'strangulation' of Sarajevo or any group blocked aid convoys. His statement followed a marathon meeting of Nato ambassadors called by Washington.

President Bill Clinton turned up the pressure for tough action in Bosnia after months on the sidelines because of concern that the Bosnian capital could fall to the Serbs.

Morale in Sarajevo was battered in May when Mr Clinton pulled back from air strikes because of objections from his European partners. Many believe the same will happen again, and were disappointed that Nato had set no deadline for the Serbs to comply.

'If they were serious they wouldn't give the Serbs another chance,' said Emira Ruzdic, a lawyer relaxing in a cafe by the Miljacka where a cup of coffee at two marks costs the equivalent of half a month's wages.

'Clinton is not the right man for air strikes,' she said. 'He's a good actor and he looks nice. He's imitating Kennedy.'

Ismet Aladzuz, who has run the coffee shop in Sarajevo's old town since the owner was killed at the start of Bosnia's war, disagreed.

'They should have carried out air strikes before. They must do it now. There is no other way to stop these animals (the Serbs),' he said. 'The only person I believe in is Clinton. Europe has got no balls. Clinton has.'

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