Vowing to fight to their deaths, Serbs in Sarajevo took to the streets by the thousands Saturday to protest the Balkan peace plan.
Holding up their children as symbols of their sense of betrayal, Serbs in the Grbavica section of the city declared they will never leave their homes there.
“We’ll die if we have to” said one banner. “Sarajevo is ours,” said another.
The protest came just hours after Serb leader Radovan Karadzic delivered a televised plea to accept the U.S.-mediated plan, which roughly cuts Bosnia in half.
One part would be governed by the Serbs; the other, including Sarajevo, by a Muslim-Croat federation.
Failure to persuade the Serbs to accept the agreement could torpedo international efforts to end 3-1/2 years of war.
The agreement is to be signed next month in Paris. Karadzic reportedly has initialed a copy of the agreement, reached Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio.
The Serb news agency SRNA reported that Karadzic and his top general, Ratko Mladic, plan to attend the signing. However, they face arrest on war crimes charges if they venture outside their territory.
“We have accepted peace achieved in Dayton,” Karadzic said Saturday in a statement to The Associated Press. However the plan must still be ratified by the Bosnian Serb parliament, he said, adding that Sarajevo could be a sticking point.
Karadzic suggested at the very least the United States and its allies should guarantee the safety of the more than 100,000 Serbs living in and around the city.
If not, he said, “Sarajevo is going to be a long-lasting problem.”
But the best solution, he suggested, would be to remove Sarajevo from the peace agreement and start all over.
“We think the Sarajevo problem should be renegotiated.”
Many Serbs say they were sold out by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who represented Bosnian Serbs at the Dayton talks. Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik - speaker of the Bosnian Serb parliament - have said their demands were ignored not just by Milosevic but also by the United States.
Serbs in Sarajevo fear loss of life and property if the city comes under the rule of the Muslim-led government. Some have vowed to burn their houses if forced to leave.
At the protest Saturday, many cried. Others were too angry for tears.
“The war started here, and it will finish here. We have defended the corners and the streets, and we will stay here. Where else would 120,000 people go?” said Nesa Dodik, 32, a soldier at the rally in Grbavica, a Serb-controlled section of the Bosnian capital.
Nadezhda Manojlovic, a 55-year-old woman living virtually on the front line, agreed: “This is my house, and I’m not leaving. They can only walk over my dead body.”
Serbs also took to the streets Saturday in Vogosca, a Serb-held suburb of the city. A similar rally Friday in the Ilidza suburb drew hundreds of protesters.
Sarajevo Serbs appeared to have some support from the Bosnian Serb leadership. SRNA quoted a senior Grbavica official as telling demonstrators that Mladic, the Bosnian Serb army commander, was on their side.
The Bosnian Serb news agency also quoted Savko Aleksic, the commander of the Serb Sarajevo brigades, as saying “There’s going to be no command of retreat or surrender.”
An independent newspaper based in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, reported Saturday that Mladic would be replaced by Gen. Milan Gvero, now his deputy and believed to be Milosevic’s man. The Nasa Borba newspaper also said that Karadzic would be replaced by Nikola Koljevic, one of his more moderate deputies. Under the peace plan, neither Mladic nor Karadzic can hold office.
Resistance to the Dayton accord also came from the Bosnian Croats, who ultimately would have to surrender considerable territory near a vital northern Serb corridor, which already is under Serb control.
Kresimir Zubak, the Croat president of the Muslim-Croat federation who resigned but then reconsidered his move, said the peace deal was invalid without his signature and “undesirable for both the Muslim and Croat people.”