Serbs say bloody farewell to Sarajevo

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One man was killed and six people, including a six-year-old boy, were wounded yesterday in an attack on a tram in central Sarajevo that came hours before the expiry of a deadline imposed by rebellious Serbs desperate to rewrite the Dayton peace plan.

French Nato troops deployed along "Sniper Alley" returned fire with 20mm cannon towards the Serb-held suburb of Grbavica, which is due to revert to government control next month under the peace plan. The soldiers reported a stream of sniper fire coming from Grbavica, some 200 yards from Sniper Alley across the Miljacka river, and dispatched a patrol to seek the source.

The first Sarajevan to die since the peace plan was signed in December lay on a carpet of glass on the floor of the tram, his body covered by a brown blanket. A six-year-old boy, Nedim Corovic, sat in the emergency room at Kosevo hospital, blood on his T-shirt. Like the five others injured when a rocket-propelled grenade crashed through the roof of the tram, he was not badly hurt.

At the time of the attack the tram driver, Mehtiba Dzevlan, was at a stop opposite the Holiday Inn. She told passengers to get off, then drove on to the nearest first-aid post: "I did not expect this to happen. We'll see if they [I-For] do anything different from the UN."

A spokesman for I-For, the Nato Implementation Force, said French troops who were forced into a gun battle with the Serbs would continue their investigations. "We view this as a serious, senseless and cowardly attempt to disrupt the peace process," Major Simon Haselock said.

The Serb leadership, represented by Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb assembly speaker, as Radovan Karadzic is barred from contact with I-For as a suspected war criminal, wrote to Admiral Leighton Smith, the I-For commander, demanding that he postpone until 15 September the hand-over of five suburbs around Sarajevo to the Muslim-led government.

Mr Krajisnik warned that without such a postponement, which he wanted confirmed by today, there would be a mass exodus of Serbs from the area.

Yesterday several explosions rocked Grbavica and other suburbs as Serb forces apparently blew up and set fire to buildings. At dusk, four fires could be seen burning in the hills north of the city. One large building was razed, its beams burning furiously for at least two hours.

I-For troops investigating the explosions could not say what had been burnt but speculated that the destruction was a dramatic farewell by Serbs who are furious about their losses.

"I'm so angry about everything that I have no words for you," said one Serb man standing in the back of a lorry filled with furniture. "I'm leaving with my family and where I go is my business." A broom, an ironing board and a sledge leant against the wall of his apartment block. A friend helped to heave a table into the lorry.

Last month, Serbs in the five suburbs said they would not stay without guarantees of safety.

The Bosnian government yesterday issued an amnesty to all Serb soldiers except those listed as war criminals. But the Muslim government's gesture failed to impress those Serbs who live in Grbavica.

"Why should we need their amnesty?" the man asked. "It's an amnesty to keep me here in prison," added the man's friend. "It's rubbish. We lost our houses on the other side and now we have to leave here too."