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Sarajevo Area Tense as Power Transfer Nears

February 20, 1996|DEAN E. MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HADZICI, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The dreaded news arrived Monday in simple leaflets handed out by French soldiers on street corners in this Bosnian Serb suburb of Sarajevo.

The Bosnian Serb police department here will soon be shut down, it was announced. A new force, run by the Muslim-led Bosnian government along with international monitors, will take its place.

"Stay put," the leaflet urged, quoting a favorite Bosnian Serb poet. "The sun of a distant sky will never warm you as the sun does here."

A local policeman snatched a circular. He read a few sentences and then ripped it into pieces.

"Never," he said, fury in his stare. "People are fed up. We defended this place during 3 1/2 years of war. Now we will go."

Hadzici is one of five Serb-populated suburbs of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, scheduled to come under the control of the Muslim-Croat federation by next month. The transfer of authority is one of the most volatile aspects of last year's Dayton, Ohio, peace accord, and its first stage--the change in police forces announced Monday--is beset with potentially explosive problems.

An exodus of up to 40,000 Serbs is expected over the next few weeks, according to U.N. officials who oversee civilian provisions of the peace deal. More than 200 families fled this western suburb over the weekend, and untold others are preparing for the move by dismantling window frames, kitchen appliances and anything else of value in their homes.

"I don't know anyone who is staying," said Branka Gogic, 32, a mother of three, as she studied one of the handouts. "We don't want to live together with Muslims. We started fighting because we didn't want to live together."

Across town, in the northern suburb of Vogosca, where the Bosnian Serb police will lose jurisdiction Friday under the transfer timetable, the police chief said there is no telling how people--desperate and at wits' end--will react.

Violence, he said, is not out of the question.

"There was a lot of blood lost on both sides--are we suddenly supposed to kiss and make up?" said Police Chief Jovan Maunaga, 38, whose mother and two brothers were killed in the war. "No one can guarantee anything here. There will be no Serb police, no Serb army, nothing."

U.N. officials say they also fear the unknown, particularly because some Bosnian Serb officials in Pale, their headquarters near here, have made inflammatory remarks about the transfer and, according to some reports, have intimidated Serbs who might want to remain.

The Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA reported Monday night that a three-day evacuation of the suburbs will begin today at noon and that a call is going out for private and military vehicles from across Bosnian Serb territory to help with the exodus.

"We have to work quickly," Gojko Klickovic, who heads the Bosnian Serb relocation effort, said in a televised interview. "We shouldn't allow that a single Serb stays in the regions that will become part of the Muslim and Croat federation."

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia said it has stepped up troop deployments in the five suburbs in case things should spin out of control. About 300 international police officers will also be assigned to the communities to keep an eye on the 545 Bosnian government police who will replace the 900 local Serbian law enforcement officers by March 19.

A U.N. official, who asked not to be identified, said the international police have "stretched their mandate" to impose restrictions on the so-called federation police, including requiring U.N.-issued identity cards, restricting their movements between suburbs and forbidding searches and arrests outside the presence of a U.N. monitor.

No one, however, knows if it will be enough.

"Everybody has a serious problem on their hands," said Michael Steiner, deputy to the U.N. high representative in Bosnia. "In other areas of the country that were vacated, there was mass destruction. We won more time here, but I don't know what will happen. There is so much mistrust."

The handing over of the Serbian suburbs was scheduled to take place last month under the Dayton accord but was delayed to make the transfer more palatable to reluctant residents. Efforts were supposed to be made to recruit Bosnian Serb police officers into the new federation police force as a way of easing fears about Muslim-dominated authorities.

But police officers in several of the suburbs, questioned randomly by a reporter, said they were never approached about such a job and have become so distrustful of the incoming federation force that they would not consider working for it now.

Maunaga, the Vogosca police chief, said he never met with representatives of the U.N. high representative, whose office is overseeing the transfer of authority, and only learned federation police would be arriving this week when one of his officers was handed a pamphlet Monday morning.

U.N. officials acknowledged that their effort to woo Bosnian Serb officers has been disappointing.

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