Sarajevo ethnically cleansed Muslims in charge: Serbs flee suburbs to pursue the grim goal of a homogenous state.

March 20, 1996

AS THE WALLS that divided Sarajevo during four years of civil war come tumbling down, what remains is a cruel mockery of the Bosnian peace accords. It is no longer the city it once was cosmopolitan, tolerant, multi-ethnic nor is it even close to what the big-power diplomats envisioned when they met at Dayton last year.

Instead of Muslims, Croats and Serbs living together in a fair degree of harmony, Sarajevo's suburbs are a smoking ruin under the control of a Muslim-led government that is mistreating Serbs in retaliation for much harsher Serb mistreatment of Muslims earlier in the war.

The Muslim definition of a city council has 45 Muslim members and exactly two others. Even as Serb and Croat military units moved out of the central city under Dayton's terms, the Muslims held back until angry U.N. and NATO officials set a withdrawal deadline. The new Muslim-controlled police force stood by as thugs of their own religious persuasion looted, burned and raped in the Serb sections of the city.

This is not to say the Serbs were blameless far from it. Exhibiting the kind of behavior that has disgraced a once-proud heritage, super-nationalists bullied fellow-Serbs into leaving their homes so that the grim objective of an ethnically cleansed state can be pursued elsewhere.

The result: a Sarajevo that remained multi-ethnic though divided during all the years of shelling is now virtually uni-ethnic and united.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher hastily called the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia together in Geneva even as the Sarajevo suburbs were burning. All he got were promises to turn over three suspected war criminals to the international court of justice in the Hague.

While the NATO-led 60,000-man Implementation Force has succeeded in keeping warring armies apart, civilian populations are locked in an intensifying hatred. That raises a dilemma.

President Clinton committed 20,000 troops to enforce the peace accord for only a year. But what then? Will he (or his successor) extend the commitment? Or will the withdrawal go ahead on schedule as militarists on all sides chafe to resume fighting?

What has happened in Sarajevo in these last few days may be another signal that this struggle will go on and on, easily outlasting the best efforts of well-meaning outsiders. For in Bosnia, grievances are nurtured not for years, not for decades, but for centuries.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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