Sarajevo celebrates dawn of new era

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Trails of red tracer bullets forming an arc across the sky hailed the start of 1996 in Sarajevo, which everyone hopes and many now believe will be a time of peace.

Across the city, where the 10pm curfew was suspended for the holiday that unites Sarajevans of all creeds, the sounds and lights from many parties filled the streets. A British brigadier, an Irish rock star and the Bosnian Foreign Minister mingled at one gathering.

Bono, lead singer of U2, came to celebrate New Year in Sarajevo with Muhamed Sacirbey, the Foreign Minister, and promised to return with the rest of the band for a concert. "I'm very happy to be the first tourist in the new Sarajevo," he said.

With light, heat, water, gas, food, clothes on sale and street-lights instead of snipers, Sarajevo started the New Year in almost normal circumstances, although the physical destruction, mental scars and barriers of fear remain.

In the shattered library, a bizarre mix of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian styles intended as a symbol of Bosnia, Bono paused for photographers. "Nothing really prepares you for the destruction, and my first impression was that if people can live through this they must be extraordinary people with a great future," he said.

His presence was proof of the changes wrought by Nato's peace implementation force (I-For) in the past 12 days: celebrities were thin on the ground during the war.

Now many Bosnians are coming back, if only to visit their families over the holidays. One couple, returning from Germany, drove through the Serb- held suburb of Ilidza - a journey still off-limits to most Sarajevans, terrified by the prospect of entering enemy territory.

Ilidza and the four other Serb-held suburbs that will revert to government rule next month hold Orthodox Christmas next Sunday and New Year a week later. The residents feel there is little to celebrate. The new-found freedom in Sarajevo is a bitter pill for Serbs who besieged the city for so long.

Many plan to leave rather than live under Bosnian government control. Gone are the days when the barren shops of Sarajevo made Ilidza look like a bazaar - fuel now costs three German marks (pounds 1.30) a litre, three times the price in Sarajevo, though still a far cry from the DM30 Sarajevans had to pay at the height of the siege.

"All the Serbs are aware of the uncertainty we will face in the future and we are aware of the difficulties we will experience," said Nenad Popovic, a policeman at a Serb checkpoint. "But it is better to leave than to be a second-class citizen."

On Sunday politicians, diplomats and aid workers joined ordinary people at the National Theatre to hear the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra play Beethoven's Fifth. I-For celebrated by organising an American football match at Kiseljak, a Croat-held town near Sarajevo. Perhaps the most appropriate tribute was a parade through the city by a Spanish group, "Clowns without Frontiers."