Serbs spare their dead the 'disgrace' of Muslim rule

Emma Daly watched families dig up their relatives before leaving Sarajevo
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The Independent Online
Sarajevo - Hell-bent on departure and damning their enemies, Serbs from Sarajevo dug up their dead and burnt down their houses yesterday, determined to head for the wilderness rather than submit to the rule of the Muslim-led Bosnian government.

At Vlakovo, a huge cemetery in Ilidza, west of Sarajevo, a mechanical digger worked overtime to exhume the bodies for the journey to new resting places. "That's it, slowly, slowly, a little more ..." called out a grave- digger as three men heaved a disintegrating wooden coffin out of its resting place and into a new tin casket.

"His body will go but his spirit will stay here in Ilidza," Igor Mijetovic said, misty-eyed, as the body of his cousin, Obrad Popadic, a former commander of the Bosnian Serb army's Ilidza Brigade, was placed in a truck ready for transport to eastern Bosnia.

Labourers welded shut a second coffin bearing the corpse of his father, Aleksa, as the commander's widow and sister keened and wept. Other friends and relatives handed out shots of rakija and smoked meat to the grave- diggers.

At another plot near by, the remains of Milan Pusara were lifted out of the old coffin and into the new; at a third, the husband and brother of Dobrinka Mihajlovic began turning the sod on her grave. Most of the bodies will go to a new purpose-built cemetery in Bosnian Serb territory. The living do not yet know where they will end up.

Dragica Sladoje waited her turn. She had come to collect her husband, Milorad. "It's much worse for me this time than the last, because at least at the funeral I saw he had a nice coffin, and this time it is just dirt," she said, tears pouring down her cheeks.

The thick yellowing clay was turned in central Sarajevo too, this time for the funeral of Mirsada Duric, a passenger killed on Wednesday evening when a rocket fired from the Serb-held suburb of Grbavica crashed into a tram. She was buried in the football field, co-opted as a war graveyard, near her husband, killed on the front line at Christmas in 1992.

Spokesmen for Nato's Implementation Force (I-For) have blamed "terrorists" for the incident. It was the first of its kind since the Dayton plan was signed, but was characteristic of countless Serb attacks during the war. Other observers fear that Serbs determined to stop the unification of Sarajevo are trying to fan fears and scare I-For into postponing the hand-over of five Serb suburbs, including Ilidza and Grbavica, to the Bosnian government.

Momcilo Krajisnik, the senior Serb negotiating with I-For, has demanded an extension until September. "Serbs in Sarajevo will not accept Muslim rule," he said, adding that those who have nowhere to go could "organise themselves and put up armed resistance to the establishment of a Muslim administration".

Back in the city, Sevko Duric said: "I lost my son and then, when I thought this damned war was over, I lost my daughter-in-law." He began to weep. His other son, Zecir, knelt by the grave, tears coursing down his face, and blamed the Serbs, I-For and his government for Mirsada's death: "The first because they are killers, the second because they do nothing to protect us and the third because they let the trams run 100 metres from the front line."

Smoke billowed across that line yesterday, as Serbs from Grbavica began to burn down their houses. "It's better that no one should have the house - no Muslim will get it," Dragan said with bitter satisfaction, as smoke billowed from his square, red-tiled home on a front-line street.

"We are all going to leave, and the houses will go with us," Dragan said. A crash of tiles: the roof of a second burning house caved in. "I was born in that house," Slobodan said, while it was still standing. "We used to sledge down this hill as children. But now we have to go."

The men have packed their possessions and sent them along the mountain road to Pale, the Bosnian Serbs' capital, for safe-keeping with friends. The road to Pale is jammed with lorries, hearses and overloaded cars.

Their families will follow them in a week or so. Nebojsa picked his way through the broken glass and piles of old clothes in his shell-shattered house. "I will burn it down when I go," he said. "I don't want a Muslim to live here."