Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serbs Step Up Departure From Sarajevo Suburbs

SARAJEVO -- A Serb exodus from Sarajevo suburbs gained momentum Thursday before Moslem-Croat police began moving into the areas where international appeals failed to persuade desperate Serbs to stay in their homes.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, 70, who led the country's break from Serbian-led Yugoslavia, was taken to hospital due to "sudden heart troubles" on Thursday, the government press agency BH reported.

"The health condition of President Izetbegovic demands that he is spared all strain," a statement said. "A doctors' consortium has been formed to take charge of his treatment and recovery."

In the northern suburb of Vogosca, Serbs besieged the local mayor, asking for help a day before Moslem-Croat Federation police were scheduled to patrol the district.

Vogosca is one of five suburbs due to be handed over to the full authority of the federation by March 20 under terms of the Dayton peace agreement signed in December.

Thousands of Serbs, fearing revenge attacks for the brutal siege of the city, have already left the suburbs and authorities have closed several banks and schools.

Two fires burned unattended in Vogosca several hundred meters from the municipal building Thursday as residents looked on with fear and resignation. The cause of the fires remained unclear.

One woman threw pans of water from her flat window in a futile attempt to extinguish the blaze.

When asked why fire fighters had not arrived, one resident said: "They all left town yesterday."

The international community has urged the Serbs to remain in their homes, citing safety guarantees in the Dayton pact. But most Serbs say they cannot submit to the rule of the Moslem-led Bosnian government.

An international police force has deployed to try to supervise the Federation police and allay Serb concerns. But the UN police admit they are helpless to halt the flight.

With mountain roads through Serb territory congested and covered in snow, Bosnian government and NATO authorities opened a highway bypass through Sarajevo to allow fleeing Serbs to pass through the capital.

Western governments say the transition of authority in the Sarajevo suburbs is a key test of the Dayton pact, but the exodus cast doubt on whether the city's pre-war multi-ethnic character could be restored after 3-1/2 years of conflict.

In a boost for the fragile peace process, Bosnian Serb leaders decided to restore full cooperation with NATO and international representatives after a boycott prompted by a dispute over war crimes investigations.

The Serb news agency SRNA reported Serb leaders were resuming contacts with the NATO-led peace Implementation Force as well as the Moslem-Croat federation in line with talks at last weekend's Rome summit.