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Reluctant Serbs Say Farewell To Suburb

A group of ragged Bosnian Serb police officers, their voices barely audible over a scratchy recording of the old anthem of the kingdom of Yugoslavia and the thunder of ammunition exploding nearby, lined up for a formal farewell to the neighborhood they will hand over to the Muslim-Croat federation today.

The police officers lowered the Bosnian Serb flag from the front of the Grbavica police station, kissed the cloth and folded it. Milenko Karisik, deputy interior minister for the Bosnian Serbs, proclaimed the officers “heroes” and reminded the few onlookers that the police were the first to raise the rebel Serbian flag in the suburb four years ago.

“We saved this area militarily but we lost it at Dayton,” he said, referring to the talks there last year.

“Maybe this generation of Serbs won’t come back, but in future generations the Serbs will return,” he added.

The roaring fires in buildings, punctuated by exploding ammunition, the bands of drunken thugs cruising the streets in cars without license plates, and the fear etched on the faces of elderly people who peered through the plastic sheeting nailed across their window frames illustrated that whatever authority these police officers had wielded disintegrated days ago.

This Serbian-held Sarajevo neighborhood is the last scheduled to be turned over to the federation. Today is also the deadline for the two former warring factions to withdraw more than half a mile from the former front lines.

As NATO officials blasted the Serbs for failing to stop the arson and looting in Grbavica, they also warned the Muslim-led Bosnian army that it had 24 hours to vacate the main barracks and other military installations in central Sarajevo.

Maj. Simon Haselock, a spokesman for the NATO force, told reporters Monday that the peacekeepers had the right to enforce the Bosnian government troop withdrawal.