Sarajevans rejoice over city's reunion

Grbavica yesterday became the last of five Serb-held suburbs of the capital to come under Bosnian control.

Good cheer, in spite of sorrow over the destruction, yesterday filled the streets of Grbavica, emptied of most of its Serb residents, as thousands of Sarajevans crossed the former front line to celebrate the reunification of the city.

Shortly after dawn, a thin green line of Bosnian government police took control of Grbavica, the last of the five Serb-held suburbs handed over under the Dayton peace plan, ending the four-year wartime division of Sarajevo.

A few of the 3,000-odd residents who had not joined the Serb exodus wandered the streets, where houses still smouldered, handing out plum brandy and welcoming the new police force.

Most remained barricaded in their homes, maintaining the security measures taken against departing Serb arsonists until they could judge the mood of the incomers.

Three hours later, the Bosnian police opened the Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity, the ravages around marking the front line that ran through the Miljacka River to the city. Thousands of Sarajevans poured across to visit the homes they had fled in 1992, or just to see the sights.

The column moved forward towards the centre of the flat-lands and shattered high-rise tower-blocks. "It's like Disneyland, it's just like coming to Disneyland," cried one teenage girl.

"Well it's not too badly damaged," a middle-aged man said. "There is no sign of shelling in the centre." Another woman gazed at the empty window frames, which had been stripped by Serbs who had fled. "I don't recognise anything," she said. One man found his home empty, save for the cat he lost when he fled in 1992.

There were many reunions - cautious greetings shouted from windows by those who stayed behind in Grbavica. There were hugs and kisses on the street. And there was at least one instant eviction by a Croat couple who had returned to find an elderly Serb woman living in their flat.

Despite the groups of young men roaming around, there was little sign of the aggressive acts seen in the western suburb of Ilidza. There, Serbs who remained suffered threats, abuse and intimidation for several days after the transfer of power to Bosnian authority.

"It's terrible - there is so much happiness to be in Grbavica but so much sorrow too," said Nasiha Kalamujic as she walked briskly towards the wreckage of her home.

A former Serb trench ran below her first-floor flat; the front-line building had been shelled and shot to pieces.

She wept but then cheered up: "I still have one door and a balcony and that's enough for me."

Bosnian policemen shooed her party away from the trench, fearful of mines, or boobytraps.

Hazifa Mesic, an elderly Muslim woman who spent the last two nights of Serb rule in the United Nations "safe house" in Grbavica, terrified of arsonists and robbers, returned home yesterday to find her front door ajar.

She called the police, who sent in the bomb squad. Her store cupboard was booby-trapped. But the explosion, which shattered windows and scattered debris around the flat, did not injure the explosives experts. The UN international police handed out leaflets warning householders of the dangers of mines and explosives, but there were at least two other similar incidents yesterday.

"If I had opened the door, I would be dead for sure," Ms Mesic said, trembling.

"We Muslims often did not dare even to go to the market," she said, recalling life in Serb-held Grbavica. "But there were nice Serbs who helped us. They were not all bad." but I can't be happier than this."

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