'Safe area' a bitter joke to Muslims U.N. forces gather, face shouts of 'liars'

July 11, 1993|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- As more than 1,000 French troops began arriving at a former Olympic complex here Friday to begin a United Nations military buildup, snipers opened fire, wounding one in the neck. So began the process of making Sarajevo what the U.N. calls a "safe area."

The soldier, who is expected to live, was evacuated to France within hours on a military flight. He was one of at least 1,500 people who have been killed or wounded in the Bosnian capital in the two months since the U.N. Security Council designated Sarajevo and five other predominantly Muslim enclaves to be safe havens.

As they struggle with the continuing shelling and sniping from Serbian nationalist forces and the chronic shortages of food, water and fuel, Sarajevo residents have made a black joke of the term "safe area." This week somebody stuck a placard with the words "Sigurnosna Zona," meaning safe area, on a fence outside one of the impromptu graveyards that have sprung up in the capital to accommodate the more than 12,000 people killed in the 15-month siege of the Bosnian capital.

Local newspaper cartoonists have had a field day with the term, which has become a buzzword for Western hypocrisy. For the first time since the siege began in April 1992, foreigners working here as reporters and aid workers have begun to encounter hostility from ordinary people moving about the city in a desperate search for the basic necessities of life.

In the city's central market, a sea of stalls that offer mounds of plumbing pieces stripped from destroyed houses but little food, a woman shouted at a reporter: "Go away. You are all liars and cheats." Children have begun to spit at the armored cars that Western reporters use to move about the city.

President Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim who leads the Bosnian government, has spoken with similar bitterness, most recently at a news conference Friday, announcing that the government had decided to fight on rather than capitulate to Serbian and Croatian demands to partition Bosnia into separate ethnic states for Serbs, Croats and Muslims.

Mr. Izetbegovic spoke with contempt of the European governments, including Britain and France, which proposed the "safe areas" plan, and he urged his government not to abandon the struggle against the Serbian and Croatian nationalists.

"The international community has not only betrayed us, it has betrayed itself, because the principles it has deserted here are its own," he said.

The French soldier wounded here Friday was arriving with units of the 21st French Marine infantry regiment, the first of the 7,600 additional troops to be deployed to the "safe areas" under the U.N. plan. The goal is to save the towns from being overrun and emptied of Muslims in a fresh round of what the Serbian forces call "ethnic cleansing."

The soldier is in some ways a symbol of the fragile U.N. plan, which seems unlikely to stem the tide of war here. As the Serbian forces set about trying to frustrate the plan for "safe areas," the only certainty is that the new troops will add to the soaring costs of maintaining the biggest U.N. force ever deployed -- 33,000 soldiers and police officers across the former Yugoslavia -- if the extra forces being lined up for the six Bosnian towns all arrive.

The attack on the French marines was part of a pattern of Serbian activity that had U.N. officials angrily complaining about dozens of resolutions approved by the Security Council over the last year demanding a halt to "ethnic cleansing" and approving U.N. military actions to support the Bosnian Muslims, in particular by providing an escort to U.N. relief convoys.

As the U.N. officials have described it, the Security Council has failed to follow up by authorizing punitive actions against the Serbian forces when they block aid.

"I'm completely numb; I feel like packing my bags and going home," Anthony C. Land, the Briton who heads the U.N. relief efforts in Sarajevo, said Friday after learning that more than a week of negotiations with Serbian officials had ended in what he called "yet another deceit." Bosnian Serbs had agreed to let a convoy carrying diesel fuel enter the city, then reneged.

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