Sarajevans fear for the future as peace brings its problems

The longed-for ceasefire has claimed tragic new victims, writes Emma Daly
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The Independent Online
Sarajevo - "Trickery" is what most people suspect from the enemy, and delusions are rife in Sarajevo as it gets used to the cease-fire. The shooting echoing across the valley at night is mostly "happy fire", celebrating the truce or a wedding. The Serbs besieging the city have brought French peace-keepers to their knees, but all in a good cause. The streets are filled with people enjoying an Indian summer, but fearful of the future.

The huge explosion that rocked the city less than 30 minutes after the truce began in fact was caused by the gas and electricity supplies reaching Sarajevo as a result of the cease-fire agreement with the Serbs.

Namik Brkonic, 19, switched on the bathroom light and blew up his family's flat. With 70 per cent burns, he is in a critical condition and may not even survive planned evacuation to Italy for specialist treatment.

"He's a friend of mine," said Semira Viteskic, a nurse caring for Namik in Kosevo hospital. "I could only recognise him by his blue eyes."

Namik and his parents, who also were burnt, are victims of the war as much as any sniper victim: the blue-striped garden hose piping gas illegally into a home-made burner is a typical household appliance here, where people have been forced to use any means possible to heat their homes through the bitter winters.

"At first I thought it was a shell, but when I saw there were no walls left on either side of the flat, I realised it was gas," said Namik's father, Ibrahim Brkonic, from the hospital bed where he lay, his hands and feet heavily bandaged. "It's very hard, because it happened on the day of the cease-fire."

The walls of the flat in a modern block, untouched by bullets or shrapnel, no longer exist. Not a brick or beam blocks the perfectly shaped holes in the ceiling and the floor.

The sight brings tears to the eyes of visiting friends. "Perhaps it's better to freeze than have your house explode," Omer Karalic said, grimly.

That is about as far as choice extends for many Sarajevans. "We have gas and electricity, but no water, and that is what we need most to survive," said Amer Klepo, a taxi-driving soldier. "It is not peace or freedom," added his friend, Dzenan Mujcinovic.

Their scepticism echoed that of another soldier - a Serb. "If they don't shoot, that's good. But I don't believe it. The Muslims are not to be trusted. They have zero intelligence," spat out a man at a checkpoint on the main road from Sarajevo to Pale, the nearby headquarters of the Bosnian Serbs.

No traffic had passed the checkpoint since the fighting began in April 1992. Weeds pushed through cracks in the tarmac, while plants overflowed from the verge.

A detachment of peacekeepers was hard at work, for the road leads to the besieged Muslim enclave of Gorazde in eastern Bosnia, and the Serbs have agreed under the cease-fire deal to open it to convoys of aid.

Some young French soldiers knelt on the road before a layer of earth and stones two inches thick, scraping delicately with hunting knives, in search of the deadly plastic mines buried within.

On a cliff high above, three Serb soldiers watched. A hundred yards up the road, UN bulldozers unceremoniously brushed aside the metal barriers that for more than three years have signified the boundary of no man's land. A Serb soldier had to stand aside. It was not surprising that he was cross, and he would not give his name.

Would we, as civilians, have problems driving along the road? "No. I'll check your car for weapons and ammunition, and double-check, and then you can go," the soldier said, to an audience of journalists and French officers. Then the peace-keepers drifted away.

He added: "Yes, of course you'll have problems. The road is closed. I am nothing, I have to wait for orders from my commanders. You can come here, but no further."

Miroslav Cvoro, another Bosnian Serb soldier at the checkpoint, looked wistful. "I think the cease-fire will be great, if both sides respect it. I just hope it's not another trick, because we all want to see the end of the war," he said.

"We're all tired of war. We can hardly wait for peace to come." And that is true for almost all Sarajevans.