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Source: Chicago Tribune, Friday, May 21, 1993 Source: By Thom Shanker
Section: NEWS Dateline: ZVORNIK, Bosnia-Herzegovina
SERBS ACT AS THOUGH WAR'S OVER
The scent of war is everywhere, but the war may be over.
Wildflowers bloom on the blood-soaked mountainsides, and apple trees are dressed in the white blossoms of spring. But poking through the firs, poplars and fruit trees is the hard-metal glint of artillery, now as silent as the camouflage of the thick alpine canopy.
"We won this war" was the verdict Thursday of a Bosnian Serb lieutenant assigned to an anti-aircraft company on parade in Zvornik. His guns would try to fend off bombing runs at the strategic Drina River bridges linking Bosnia and Serbia here.
"We have wanted this war to stop," the officer said. "If you ask me, it has."
Festivities planned simply for the anniversary of the Drina River Regiment instead had all the feel Thursday of a final victory celebration, coming one day after the Bosnian Serb parliament ordered a halt to offensive operations and called on international observers to police the current front lines.
Undefeated by Muslim or Croatian forces and unopposed by Western forces, the Bosnian Serb war machine now appears to have called a tactical timeout. It is stretched to its limits in the field and has gobbled up more land than even its commanders originally thought necessary-or even possible-in Bosnia.
Bosnian Serb leaders are confident they control the pace and momentum of diplomatic solutions to the Bosnian crisis.
Thus, they feel that outside military intervention can be avoided so long as they make no aggressive move-such as heavily shelling the besieged Muslim enclaves of Zepa or Gorazde or mounting a new offensive to wrest Sarajevo from the Muslim army.
How can the West intervene to force the Bosnian Serbs to step back, they reason, if the West didn't intervene to keep them from rolling forward?
And by halting fighting now, any spillover of the conflict into Kosovo or Macedonia could not be blamed on the Bosnian Serbs but could be linked only to actions of the Serbian regime in Belgrade.
"We are trying not to provoke the West," said Dragan Spasojevic, the former police chief of Zvornik who recently was elevated to chairman of the regional executive council. "We cannot make another step forward into enemy territory."
Cognizant that international opinion is turning against Bosnian Croatians, who are seizing Muslim-held territory elsewhere in Bosnia, the Bosnian Serbs are hoping the West will acknowledge that the best option is freezing the current front lines.
On Thursday, heavy Muslim-Croatian street fighting wracked the southwestern city of Mostar despite UN attempts to arrange a cease-fire.
Although that would reward Serbian aggression, it would stop the killing-unless the Muslim presidency in Sarajevo decides that his only recourse is attempting to provoke the Serbs into breaking the cease-fire and rekindling the war.
The sense of Serbian victory has been palpable all across eastern and central Bosnia in recent days.
Searches were polite and perfunctory Thursday at Bosnian Serb checkpoints. As recently as a month ago, militiamen showed a standard-issue disrepect for Westerners passing through. Their firearms were never set to safety, and no uniform was complete without a grenade dangling menacingly off a belt.
Roads that just a few weeks ago were littered with dead cattle and the debris of Muslims fleeing with their lives are filled today with Serbian children on bicycles and that certain sign of spring in farm country: frisky colts, calves and kids.
"We took some parts of Bosnia that are not ours," Spasojevic, the regional official, said. "But we left to the Muslims and others parts that are Serbian."
His domain of Zvornik, a region of 70,000 people, was 55 percent Muslim before the war began 15 months ago. Today, it would be hard to find even 200 Muslims in the area after the Bosnian Serbs' spring offensive, which drove Muslim forces from all but three enclaves in eastern Bosnia.
Spearheading that offensive was the Drina River Regiment, which used as its parade grounds Thursday the soccer field in Zvornik, once a detention center for Muslims during the war.
Four tanks, four armored personnel carriers, three anti-aircraft guns-one dating from World War II-and three field artillery pieces were on display for the gathered families of Zvornik enjoying a day's outing.
Mortar shells were lined up at attention like the 200 troops dressed in jungle fatigues and red berets.
The parade opened with the singing of "God Help Serbian Soldiers," followed by a blessing for the war dead by three Eastern Orthodox priests dressed in black robes and orange prayer shawls.
PHOTO: Muslims load a sniper victim into an ambulance in the southwestern Bosnian city of Mostar, where heavy street fighting with Croatian forces reportedly continued Thursday. AP photo.
PHOTO (color): Springtime in Sarajevo's ruins.
Surrounded by remnants of war, a youngster rides a skateboard Thursday in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. In another Bosnian city, a Serb regiment celebrated as though the war was over-and it had won. AP photo. (Published on page 1.)
Keywords: YUGOSLAVIA BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA REVOLT RESULT
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