Bosnian Serb gangs set suburb ablaze Town is to come under Muslim-Croat control

March 18, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - Grbavica, the final Bosnian Serb-held enclave in the Sarajevo area that will come under Muslim-Croat control, was torn by huge explosions last night as fires swept through the area and gangs with cans of gasoline dodged NATO patrols in an effort to ignite high-rise apartments.

There was little that the NATO-led peacekeeping forces appeared able to do.

Italian troops arrested 12 Bosnian Serb men suspected of arson in four incidents, frisking the men as they stood against a wall.

A few Serbs peered from windows as the troops marched one group of nine men through the drizzle to the Bosnian Serb police station. The police, angered by the NATO intervention, jeered at foreign reporters who watched.

Grbavica, or what is left of it, is scheduled to come under the control of the Muslim-Croat federation tomorrow.

It is the last of five Bosnian Serb-held suburban areas being transferred to the federation as part of the peace agreement reached last fall in Dayton, Ohio. Most of the 60,000 Serbs in these areas have fled.

The detentions, the most aggressive response of the exasperated NATO troops who patrol the streets, were unable to deter widespread destruction. The warehouse used by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sent billows of black smoke into the sky. Thirty minutes later a huge fire engulfed the covered market and a local restaurant.

"We need more security until Tuesday," said Morgan Morris, the head of the UNHCR office in the suburb. "Our warehouse appears to have been fired quite effectively, and we have heard rumors that our safe house may be attacked next."

The High Commissioner for Refugees has set up a safe house, protected by Italian troops, for Serbs who want to remain, and the International Committee for the Red Cross has two mobile soup kitchens.

Only a few Serbs use the safe house, with most preferring to try to protect their homes from looters.

Those Serbs who remained, estimated at 2,500, have barricaded themselves in their apartments. Few dare to venture out, and all said they stayed behind locked doors at night.

One local tough told aid workers and residents that he and his gang would make the suburb "burn like Atlanta in the American Civil War."

"Once darkness falls, it is terrifying," an elderly woman said. "We can hear the noises made by people in the halls. We all wait for the smell of smoke."

In Geneva, Secretary of State Warren Christopher criticized Muslims and Serbs in the Sarajevo suburbs last night for violence intended to push Serbian residents to flee areas handed over to the Bosnian government. But he said those abuses "are not a threat at this moment to the overall peace process."

"I don't take these events lightly," he said, adding that he would bring up the lack of policing by the Muslims and the acts of the Serbs when he meets today with President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, Acting President Ejup Ganic of Bosnia and President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia.

Today's talks are due to focus on issues such as preparations for fall elections in Bosnia; the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees; the extradition of war crimes suspects; and the expulsion of foreign Islamic fighters.

since a similar meeting long has been scheduled for Saturday in Moscow.

Mr. Christopher played down Moscow's stance, even though it was a snub to U.S. efforts to keep Russia a traditional ally of the Serbs on board.

Pub Date: 3/18/96

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