In violation of the spirit if not the letter of the peace agreement signed in Dayton, Ohio, Bosnian Serb leaders are urgently pressing all Serbs living near Sarajevo to abandon their communities before the Muslimdominated Bosnian government assumes control in the coming weeks.
The campaign collides with efforts by NATO and U.N. officials to assure Serbs that their rights will be protected and that they have nothing to fear from the government of President Alija Izetbegovic.
“We must not allow a single Serb to remain in the territories which fall under Muslim-Croat control,” Gojko Klickovic, head of the Bosnian Serb Resettlement Office, told the Bosnian Serb news agency on Tuesday. “We know what treatment they would get under the regime of Alija Izetbegovic and his mujahedeen.”
The United Nations and other relief agencies are refusing to help Serbs leave the Sarajevo area, and have condemned the Bosnian Serb leaders’ campaign to foment fear.
“This is all part of a campaign of manipulation to get people out, to create a psychosis,” said Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Under terms of the peace accord, Sarajevo’s Serbian-held suburbs are to come under Bosnian government control by March 19. U.N. and NATO planners hope that Serbs will stay so that Sarajevo can become a model for the rest of Bosnia of the peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups.
Many Serb civilians, however, fear that the Muslim authorities will arrive thirsty for revenge against Serbs who have been fighting them for years.
According to U.N. estimates, about 20,000 Serbs have already left the Sarajevo area and as many as 50,000 are either waiting for transportation or undecided about leaving. Now, the undecided are under pressure from their leaders to join the flow away from Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs have been at best suspicious of the Dayton accords, where they were represented by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
The northern suburb of Vogosca is scheduled to be the first to come under government control.
Hundreds of Vogosca residents, desperate to leave and angry that promised buses and trucks did not arrive to pick them up, staged a tumultuous protest in front of the town hall Tuesday. Several had to be hospitalized after fainting or being injured in the crush.
The Italian officer who commands NATO troops in Vogosca, Gen. Agostino Pedone, helped calm the crowd by promising that everyone who wants to leave will be able to do so and that those who cannot depart by Friday will be protected.