Talks may put Anywhere, USA on the map

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The Independent Online
Dayton, Ohio - Maybe Bosnia will succeed where Wilbur and Orville Wright, the Olympic hurdling champion, Ed Moses and ET Fraze, who invented pop-top cans, failed - and put this worthy corner of the Mid-West on the map. But if the reaction of Slobodan Milosevic is anything to go by, don't bet on it.

"You're going to keep me locked up in Dayton, Ohio?" wondered the man who is variously President of Serbia, prime architect of four years of Balkan misery, and reputed connoisseur of Scotch whisky, when he learned his impending term of diplomatic house arrest would be at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base here: "I am not a priest, you know."

Yesterday the confinement began. It will last, vow US officials, as long as it takes to produce a Bosnian peace agreement. But Mr Milosevic's fears are perhaps exaggerated. Like the other heads of delegations he will be lodged at the Visiting Officers' Quarters, where a couple of years ago air force police broke up a prostitution racket operating for the benefit of the out-of-town brass.

"Wright-Pat" is, in fact, a small city - sprawling over 8,000 acres, employing 22,000 people and boasting its own hospital, police and fire departments, a golf course and the Hope Hotel, which owes its name not to yearnings for peace but to the actor, Bob Hope. One way and another, Mr Milosevic should have enough to occupy him.

With 500 journalists briefly in town, the city fathers have been churning out promotional literature by the cartful. Its claims to lasting fame are legion. The Wright Brothers and powered flight are just the start. Believe the brochures and just about everything the human race needs for survival was invented here. Parking meters, flip-open drink cans, electric cash registers, ice-trays with an ejector mechanism.

In reality, though, this is just another middling city in the flatlands of the Mid-West, with the standard three or four skyscrapers downtown of Anywhere, USA and a population of 182,000 that represents a peaceful mingling of different European immigrant stock - rather as Bosnia might have been before Mr Milosevic and his Bosnian Serb surrogates set about their business.

This week Dayton is doing its best to rise to the occasion. "Dayton Welcomes the World," reads a sign on the road into town from "Wright-Pat". Mia Bilanovic and Peter Todorovic, Bosnian-born students at the city's university, are minor celebrities, as is Elinor Sluzas, owner of the Amber Rose restaurant, specialising in dumplings and other solid east European fare. No matter she's Lithuanian - Europe is a long way from central Ohio.

But the Dayton Daily News has admonished readers to mug up on Bosnia - or else face humiliation from reporters desperate for any scrap of information.

But next week, next month, whenever the talks end, Dayton will slip back into its comfortable obscurity, just as always. The Wrights may have lived and worked here, but their name is linked not to Ohio, but North Carolina, where the first flight in 1903 actually took place. Posterity will not call any Bosnian deal the Treaty of Dayton, but the Treaty of Paris where it will be formally signed. And the last time Dayton was in the news? In early 1994, local resident Michael Fay hit the headlines for getting himself caned in Singapore. Michael Who?