Serbs fleeing Sarajevo burn homes

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The Independent Online
Thousands of Serbs riding in overloaded cars, trucks and buses jammed snow-swept roads out of five Sarajevo suburbs yesterday in flight from the imposition of Bosnian government rule.

Nato officials appealed for calm and urged them to stay, but seemed at times as confused by the situation as the locals.

Admiral Leighton Smith, the Nato commander, declared the government was in violation of the Dayton peace plan while the Serbs had complied, despite their numerous breaches.

The Admiral did, however, ask the United Nations to suspend the lifting of sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs for 48 hours, to see if their deeds matched their words.

He said the government had breached the ban on harbouring foreign forces, citing the discovery last week of three Iranians at what Nato described as a terrorist training camp. However, spokesmen for the Nato Implementation Force, I-For, admitted the three were formally employed by Tehran's diplomatic mission in Sarajevo.

Another spokesman said nine or 10 people, mostly Iranians, arrested in the central Bosnian town of Jajce by the Bosnian Croat militia and accused by the Croatian news agency of spreading "the principles of Islamic revolution", were not foreign soldiers.

The Bosnian Serbs, for their part, agreed to restore relations with Nato and the Muslim-led government two weeks after they unilaterally suspended talks, an action that Nato described as a serious violation of the peace plan.

The Serbs are still holding a Bosnian photographer in their headquarters at Pale. He was detained for crossing into a Serb-held suburb, despite an agreement that civilians have the right to free movement.

The Serbs also are failing to co-operate with the International War Crimes tribunal; they were found to be targeting an American base with two mortars, and to have stationed eight armed soldiers in a bunker in a demilitarised zone. The Bosnian Serb police seem to have done little to prevent sniping against I-For troops and against civilians in the suburb of Ilidza.

The Serb leaders in Pale have threatened and cajoled thousands of Sarajevan Serbs into uprooting their families and possessions and trekking into the wilderness for the miserable life of a refugee.

Serbs leaving the suburb of Vogosca, where Bosnian federal police, escorted by international monitors, were due to start patrolling at 6am today, marked their exodus by burning down a kindergarten and several shops.

Flames flickered amid the snow at the scorched school, which was visible from the International Police station in Vogosca, and a pall of smoke drifted towards the families packing their belongings into trucks. I-For says it has increased its presence in the area but troops appeared to be thin on the ground, and concentrated along the main street, by the Italian Nato base.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees declined to help Serbs leave. "Our position is these people don't have to leave and they are being pushed out by their own people", Kris Janowski, a spokesman, said. But Italian Nato troops did escort Serb convoys through government-held areas.

n Alija Izetbegovic, Bosnia's Muslim President, was rushed to hospital in Sarajevo yesterday with heart trouble. The local state media said his life was not in danger.

Mr Izetbegovic, 70, who lived in Sarajevo throughout the siege, was taken to Kosevo hospital. Bodyguards barred reporters from the heart clinic. "Doctors will give an official statement on his health condition. It is not life- threatening, there is no reason for any concern," Edhem Bicakcic, vice- president of the ruling SDA party, said yesterday.

He said that Mr Izetbegovic's treatment would not disrupt the work of the government, which is led by a collective presidency.

Under a constitutional amendment that was agreed last summer, a successor to Mr Izetbegovic would be elected by parliament, dominated by Muslim MPs of the SDA, rather than by the multi-ethnic presidency.

Mr Izetbegovic said the amendment was needed in wartime to ensure a Muslim leader who could command the loyalty of the Bosnian Army. He was strongly criticised by his prime minister at the time.

The state of war was ended shortly after the signing of the Dayton peace plan. It is not clear whether the amendment still stands.