Smiles amid the ruins for Muslims home at last

EMMA DALY

Ilidza

A curiously festive air swept the looted ruins of Gavrilo Princip Street in Ilidza yesterday, as dozens of Muslims returned to their homes, four years after fleeing across the front line to safety - of a kind - in Sarajevo.

Jasna Hadzimehmedovic marched across the portal of No 15 - the front door had gone - gazed at the bare walls, marked only with crayoned graffiti, and wept for her childhood home.

But her parents, Mira and Muhammed, just laughed as they wandered through rooms stripped of furniture, light fixtures and plumbing by the Serb family who fled the transfer of authority in Ilidza yesterday from the Serb-held element of Bosnia to the Muslim-Croat federation.

"Goodbye my friends", someone, probably Ogi, had scrawled on the sitting- room wall. Ogi, a gangling 17-year-old, spent the war at No 15 with his parents, Maja and Ljubo Glogovac. In December they told us they would leave; they did not reveal their plans to vandalise the Hadzimehmedovic house as a parting gift.

"I cannot think about the past," Mrs Hadzimehmedovic said resolutely, moving though the wasteland that had been her bedroom, empty but for a cardboard box filled with old family photos. Even the fitted wardrobe had been ripped out, giving a view of Jasna's old room. "It was a shock - but it could have been worse," Jasna Hadzimehmedovic , a 25-year-old who works for a German aid agency in Sarajevo, said a few hours later. "This was my home for 20 years . . . there is nothing here of my history now, nothing to show that I had ever been here."

Sarajevo cabbies were giving former residents free taxi-rides yesterday to Ilidza, the largest of the five capital suburbs to revert to government rule under the Dayton plan. The sprawling spa town, west of the city, was known before the war for caravan sites and holiday homes, Austro-Hungarian avenues and a few modern apartment blocks. Dozens of buildings, including the picturesque old railway station, were put to the torch by the vengeful departing before the arrival yesterday of the Bosnian Federation police.

Four houses on Jasna's block had been burnt down; the dozen or so remaining had been stripped of all possible assets. "But as they say, what belongs to another is cursed, so they will not find happiness with my possessions," she said. "What can I say? These people just don't exist for me."

There is something gratuitous about the destruction of property by the Serbs leaving Ilidza - which was not badly damaged in the war. "We're the stupid party here, always begging people to live with us when they don't want to - now I'm glad [the nationalist Serbs] have left," Jasna said bitterly.

But at the same time, she knows that Bosnia's people need one another to survive. "We cannot live apart because we are a very small country, we're dependent on each other," she said.

Acknowledging the practicalities, however, does not help to heal the emotional wounds of war. "It will be very difficult to forgive and forget - it's not fair to ask people for that now: everything that they have done now under Dayton is artificial. But it is necessary." And Jasna intends to see the peace through, as she saw out the war, despite the death in December 1993 of her boyfriend, a Serb.

"Now we'll start from the beginning again, like the phoenix - it will be more beautiful than it was before."

t Belgrade - War crimes prosecutors and a senior US official questioned two Bosnian Serb soldiers about the massacre of Muslims from Srebrenica, and pressed for their extradition to the Hague tribunal, AP reports.

After meeting the two men, Drazen Erdemovic and Radoslav Kremenovic, John Shattuck, of the US State Department, said: "We have made very clear to President Milosevic that we expect that they will be turned over if there is to be full co-operation, and I believe they will be."

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