NATO to aid Serb flight from future Muslim areas Commander to allow Bosnian army trucks to relocate refugees

February 25, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

VOGOSCA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Convinced that Serbs who remain in Sarajevo's suburbs are determined to flee rather than submit to the Muslim-dominated government, NATO yesterday agreed to allow the Bosnian Serb army to send trucks to transport them to Serb-controlled areas.

Relief agencies, including the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, had refused to help Serbs leave, saying doing so would be tacit support for a form of "ethnic cleansing." But NATO's commander in Bosnia, Adm. Leighton Smith, said after touring Vogosca and other suburbs that because Serbs are leaving anyway, their flight should be made as painless as possible.

"There will be Bosnian Serb military vehicles allowed, but there won't be many of them allowed, and they will be only for the purpose of assisting the people in a humanitarian effort," Admiral Smith said. "These people, Serbs, have obviously taken the decision to leave. They've got a hell of a problem trying to make that happen. I believe that by doing this, we will reduce the tension. We will show some compassion."

Even an appeal by a senior Bosnian Serb leader yesterday failed to persuade Serbs that they should stay in the suburbs. The leader, Momcilo Krajisnik, speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament, spoke to an agitated crowd of about 200 Serbs in Vogosca's town hall.

"I don't want you to leave," he began. But angry Serbs quickly shouted him down, saying the only thing they wanted from him was trucks.

"I see that you don't want to stay," Mr. Krajisnik conceded. "In that case, you should leave as soon as possible. I will do everything I can to help you."

Thousands of Serbs have flooded out of Vogosca and other Sarajevo suburbs in recent days, preferring to face rugged trips and highly uncertain futures rather than live under a non-Serbian government.

Bosnian Serb radio and television stations had urged Serbs to flee, and Mr. Krajisnik's unconvincing appeal yesterday came only after U.N. and NATO officials had strongly condemned the weeklong media campaign.

Government police officers are supposed to be accompanied by U.N. monitors wherever they go, but that rule is not being fully observed. One woman in the town hall crowd said she had seen three unsupervised officers walking through the corridors of her apartment building.

The chief of the 70-member U.N. monitoring force, Patrick Fitzgerald, did not deny that such incidents could have occurred.

"I would love to say to you that we have been watching every single one of these officers every moment of the day and night, but I can't do that," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "We're doing the best we can with the people we have. I had men on 24-hour shifts starting at midnight Thursday, and I've had to give them time to sleep. There have been no arrests and to my knowledge no searches, but more than that I just can't say for sure."

At a Red Cross warehouse where elderly residents were being given relief supplies yesterday, three government police officers were standing guard without a U.N. monitor or NATO soldier in sight. They wore the government's dark green police uniforms, and their caps bore the government's fleur-de-lis insignia. A name tag with a photo portrait hung from each man's neck.

"In a month, the Muslim families who used to live here will start coming back," said one of the officers, Senad Pintol, who was born in Vogosca but was among the Muslims expelled by Serbs when they established control of the area.

"My own family will come back, of course. I knew this moment would come. We showed that in the end, we are stronger than the Serbs. I think they're gone for good."

Many of the refugees who have poured out of Vogosca and other suburbs traveled first to the Bosnian Serb headquarters town of Pale and then on to eastern Bosnia. Bosnian Serb police refused to allow journalists to follow the refugees to Bratunac, Visegrad and other eastern Bosnian towns where they have set up reception centers.

The next Sarajevo suburb to come under government control will be Ilijas, where the Bosnian Serb police are scheduled to be replaced by government officers Thursday. In Ilijas yesterday, people were packing their belongings onto trucks and cars, preparing for an exodus that may not be as dramatic as last week's mass flight from Vogosca but which will probably empty the town just as completely.

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