At border crossing, cutoff of aid to Bosnian Serbs arouses anger, defiance

May 10, 1993|By Dusko Doder | Dusko Doder,Contributing Writer

PAVLOVIC BRIDGE, Yugoslavia -- The young soldier was barely out of adolescence, his skin still pocked with acne. But his anger spoke for most local Serbian officials manning bridges into Bosnia and faced with orders to stop all but humanitarian supplies.

As they continued to let heavy trucks roll in both directions with barely a check Saturday, the young man in the blue uniform turned back just one car, a reporter's.

But first, he spoke his mind.

"Why are you foreign journalists coming here? You're all liars and fabricators. You make up stories about us and tell them until they become accepted as the truth. Why do you want to speak to us anyway? We have been excluded from this planet. Yes, this is Mars here. We are Martians. Not members of your precious human race."

He paused to smile and wave to a truck driver taking two large trailers across the Drina River toward the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Bijeljina. A young girl and her two brothers cycled past on a visit to their grandmother, who lives on the other side of the river, which Serbs in this area regard as just that: a river, not a border.

The officials at this picturesque northerly bridge and at the main Mali Zvornik crossing further south -- two of the five river bridges which link Bosnia and Serbia -- were not told until Saturday night to check vehicles and travelers.

That was 48 hours after Serbia told the world that it would halt all aid to Bosnia's Serbs except for food and medicine. And it came just hours after the Clinton administration said it would be watching enforcement of Serbia's embargo.

Yesterday, traffic flowing across the bridges was reduced. And Biljana Plavsic, vice president of the self-declared Serb republic in Bosnia, said she was barred from entering Yugoslavia.

Ms. Plavsic said police showed her a notice saying the Bosnian Serb president, vice presidents, ministers and members of the republic's self-proclaimed parliament were barred from crossing into Yugoslavia.

"I went back, and I do not need to explain to you now how I finally managed to cross the border. I crossed it," she told Belgrade television yesterday.

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's cutoff of weapons, ammunition and other nonhumanitarian aid to the Bosnian Serbs has been seen as an attempt to persuade other countries to lift or ease sanctions, which have crippled the Yugoslav economy, and to stave off Western military intervention.

But it was Mr. Milosevic who encouraged ethnic Serbs to grab territory to form a Greater Serbia, after Bosnia, Croatia and other former Yugoslav republics declared independence.

Several border officials expressed anger at Mr. Milosevic's apparent abandonment of the Bosnian Serbs and vowed to fight back in the event of an attack on the five vital supply bridges by U.S. or allied planes.

"We'll fight back. I'll use my sling-shot, but I'll fight," said one, reflecting the mood of defiance and unity with the Bosnian Serbs.

But to be effective, the cutoff must come at the source. The border officials indicated that they will turn a blind eye to fuel and military supplies rather than deny their Serbian friends and relatives in Bosnia.

Belgrade's official news media have claimed in recent days that the Belgrade government has been supporting the Bosnian Serbs to the tune of $5 billion a year, much of it in gasoline, equipment, spare parts and arms.

The Bosnian Serbs claim they have enough arms to fight for five years. Belgrade will continue to supply food and medicine. Their main problem will be finding supplies of gasoline, though the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic claims he will "find it somehow."

Around the Pavlovic Bridge at the Yugoslav town of Badovinci, Serbs from Serbian and Bosnia are keenly aware of the tragedy and the irony that would accompany any U.S. bombing of the bridge, which is one of the links for supplies to the strongholds of Bijeljina and Banja Luka.

The bridge, finished less than a year ago, had brought the communities on opposite sides of the river closer. It was the gift of a local boy who emigrated to Chicago and made a fortune in real estate. But he never forgot that in his border village of Badovinci people had to travel miles and miles to cross the Drina to reach Bijeljina, the nearest big town, which could be seen on the other side of the river.

Slobodan Pavlovic decided to build a bridge. It opened a year ago and was named after him. But the international media blaze of glory when he arrived to open it was overshadowed by the outbreak of the Bosnian war. Now it may even be destroyed by his adopted country.

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