Bosnian Serbs Feel Betrayed by Patrons

PALE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Even before NATO bombers began their attack Friday, the citizens of this Bosnian Serb stronghold felt embattled, despairing and betrayed by the stunning news that their patrons in Yugoslavia had cut them off.


A constant drizzle Thursday further dampened the gloomy mood in Pale, once a scenic town of 15,000 where the well-to-do of nearby Sarajevo spent their weekends.


Now the town accommodates 40,000 people, many of them Serb refugees from other parts of war-ravaged Bosnia.


Yugoslavia withdrew support for the Bosnian Serbs on Thursday, backing out of a war it bankrolled for more than two years at the expense of its own economy.


The Yugoslav government sealed the 480 kilometer border between Yugoslavia and Serb-held Bosnia. Bosnian Serbs have depended on Yugoslavia for weapons, fuel and other supplies throughout the 28-month war against Moslems and Croats.


"I think nobody should even try to go to Serbia," said Milanka Mitrovic, 36, when she heard the news. "History has not seen such a betrayal."


It was Slobodan Milosevic, the powerful president of Serbia, who first whipped up the pathos and nationalism that have fed the Bosnian war.


On Thursday, it was Milosevic who cut off aid and told ordinary Bosnian Serbs their leaders had betrayed them by rejecting an international peace plan.


A Bosnian Serb soldier, who identified himself as Lieutenant Stevo, vowed to fight on. "If we run out of ammunition, we are going to fight with our bare arms, we are not afraid to die," he said.


Bosnian Serbs are indeed likely to resume the fight with new fury if they feel cornered. But pride and anger could soon give way to fear, because the future for the isolated Bosnian Serbs is bleak. A bank clerk, who refused to give her name, said she was already sobbing two weeks ago when she found out state coffers were virtually empty.


Milosevic, who has maneuvered in recent weeks to set up his own political party in Bosnia, played to such sentiment, painting Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his cronies as war profiteers with crimes on their conscience.


"The Serb people are put in the position of paying with the lives of their best sons, fighting as heroes, for the mad political ambitions and greed of their leadership," he said.


In Sarajevo, Mirko Pejanovic, a Serb member of the ethnically mixed Bosnian presidency said: "What Karadzic conquered, in blood and crime, he won because he had help from Milosevic. Now, if he wants to continue the war, he will have to rely only on the lives of his own people, and that is a resource that will run out one day."