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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arson Enflames Shaky Sarajevo Peace

SARAJEVO -- Fleeing Serbs hurriedly plundered a smoldering Sarajevo suburb Monday one day before its transfer to Moslem-Croat rule as NATO's chief accused both sides of undermining Bosnia's peace process.


NATO troops detained three men, two of them armed with hand-grenades, after they tried to remove a road-sign in Grbavica, the last of five Serb-held suburbs due to come under federation control Tuesday.


Fires which had blazed unattended overnight continued to smoulder on Grbavica's steep hillside above Sarajevo.


At least 16 residents of Grbavica spent Sunday night at a UN "safe house" in the middle of the district rather than risk being attacked in their homes by men roaming the area.


NATO sources said a burning house in the area that exploded Monday had probably contained stored ammunition set off by the fire.


Serb fire and police officials have refused to carry out their duties in Grbavica in recent weeks, helping to create a climate of lawlessness guaranteed to drive all but the strongest out of town in accord with separatist Serb ideology.


On Monday afternoon some 40 Bosnian Serb police drove off in buses and cars, delivering the suburb entirely to the looters and NATO troops until the arrival of 100 federation police at 6 a.m. local time Tuesday.


But even after the transfer Grba-vica's few remaining residents are unlikely to see a return to peace and order.


Moslems and Croats driven from their homes in the disputed area at the beginning of the Bosnian war nearly four years ago are keen to reclaim their properties, setting the stage for a potentially ugly confrontation.


In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance's military mission in Bosnia was on track but expressed concern over the deteriorating political situation.


"In forcing people to leave, the Bosnian Serb authorities have behaved abominably and the actions of the Federation authorities have been far from reassuring," Solana said.


In suburbs already transferred to federation control the mostly elderly Serbs who chose to remain have endured intimidation and evictions by returning Moslems and Croats. The authorities have often failed to protect them.


"Although we must be pleased that Sarajevo is once again a united society, the way this has come about is a terrible blow to our vision of a multi-ethnic Bosnia," Solana said.


Solana, seated alongside NATO's Supreme Allied Commander in Europe General George Joulwan, called on the creaky Moslem-Croat federation, a cornerstone of the Dayton accords, to do more to stop violence in Sarajevo.


U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher started talks with Balkan leaders Monday aimed at pressing them for full compliance with the Dayton peace accord. The talks began at the U.S. mission in Geneva after Christopher had lunched with the delegations of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.


Christopher heard brief reports on compliance issues during a lunch with presidents Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia and Franjo Tudjman of Croatia and vice-president Ejup Ganic of Bosnia, standing in for the ailing President Alija Izetbegovic.


Bildt said the meeting was preparation for talks in Moscow Saturday that had been planned even before Christopher last week hastily arranged the Geneva session, which coincides with his current trip through Europe.


Russia has invited the foreign ministers, rather than the presidents, of the three Balkan parties and their counterparts from the Contact Group. Moscow had earlier refused to attend the Geneva talks, apparently out of annoyance at the sudden development, but in the end did send an observer to a morning Contact Group meeting in Geneva that prepared Christopher's afternoon talks.