While arson flames burned in a Sarajevo suburb soon to come under government control, NATO officials tried Saturday to reassure Serb residents. But a different message came across: No one can protect you.
Thousands of Serbs have abandoned Ilidza, which is to be handed over to the Muslim-Croat federation on Tuesday. A town hall meeting with senior NATO and U.N. officials attracted only about 100 Serbs, most of them elderly.
The NATO commander of ground forces in Bosnia told the Serbs the troops could do little to curb the lawlessness that has overwhelmed Ilidza.
“What we are not is a police force, and what we cannot guarantee is to offer individual security,” Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker told reporters.
Tension is rising in Ilidza, the most populous of the five Serb suburbs being handed to the Muslim-Croat federation. Residents are fleeing with all they can cram into cars and horse-drawn wagons.
Serb intimidation gangs have been blamed for numerous arson attacks and at least one murder in the security vacuum that has developed in Ilidza and in Grbavica, a Sarajevo neighborhood that becomes federation territory on March 19.