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News February 18, 1996

Fearing retribution, Bosnian Serbs flee Sarajevo

By Liam McDowall / Associated Press
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Hercegovina -- Serbs began fleeing their districts of Sarajevo by the hundreds Saturday, an organized exodus that demonstrated how little faith they and their leaders place in Bosnia's fragile peace.

Women, children and elderly people -- many weeping -- boarded buses in the Serb suburb of Hadzici Saturday and headed for an uncertain future in a Serb-held town east of Sarajevo.

"Don't stay ... because the international community will not ensure the safety of Serb Sarajevo," the Serbs' self-designated foreign minister, Aleksa Buha, told his brethren on Bosnian Serb television.

Saturday's exodus of 800 families of Serb soldiers killed in the war was the first organized flight of Sarajevo's Serbs, who fear retribution from Muslim-led government men after their five city districts transfer to government authority next month.

The mass flight came as international mediators summoned Balkan leaders to Rome to underline the need for all sides to stick to the Bosnian peace accord.

But only one Bosnian Serb leader -- the moderate prime minister Rajko Kasagic -- was in Rome.

Leaders like Buha made plain their real feelings about a peace forced on and negotiated for them by their erstwhile patron, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The summit convened hours after NATO ordered troops with assault helicopters and powerful grenades to confiscate or destroy tanks or artillery that violate the peace accord.

U.S. troops in northern Bosnia took one anti-aircraft gun from the Serbs hours after the order was issued Friday, said Maj. Peter Bulloch, a NATO force spokesman.

The Americans will carry out most of the operations because most weapons violating the accord are in areas they patrol.

The strong-arm tactics underscored international efforts to enforce peace.

But the Hadzici exodus and the wounding of two women by sniper fire that hit two buses traveling into government-held Sarajevo showed the deep mistrust left by 31/2 years of war.

Serb-held districts of Sarajevo must transfer to the Muslim-led government by March 19. Under a plan worked out by the international civilian administrator of the peace accord, Carl Bildt, the transfer will begin in some areas within a week.

The timetable for the transfer was presented to Serb leaders Friday, apparently triggering Saturday's exodus.

Copyright 1996, The Detroit News

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