Divided by war for almost four years, a vastly changed Sarajevo was reunited today as the last of five Serb areas passed to the Muslim-Croat federation.
After days of looting, arson and reported rape by angry Serbs, 100 federation police moved into Grbavica shortly after 6 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) to take control of the neighborhood just across the Miljacka river from Sarajevo’s historic center.
“Federal police will guarantee full security for all people here. We don’t expect any problems,” said Sarajevo police chief Enes Bezdrob, adding that the chains around Sarajevo have broken “absolutely and definitely.”
A few early risers waved as Bezdrob and his federation police drove over the Friendship and Unity Bridge from downtown Sarajevo to Grbavica. On the Sarajevo side of the bridge, several people held up Bosnian flags.
The handover came just hours after departing Serbs tossed grenades and set more buildings ablaze before fleeing. NATO-led troops seized arsonists and a Bosnian Serb policeman who tried to rape a woman, but Serb police freed them immediately.
The mixed federation police force - 75 Muslims, 20 Serbs and 5 Croats - immediately broke into groups of threes and started patrolling the district Tuesday.
Abdulah Alajbegovic, a 57-year-old Muslim, and his wife, Mileva, a 64-year-old Serb, watched the first group of police with a feeling of overwhelming relief.
“For me, the last four years were hell,” he said. “Today is my second birthday, like I’ve been born again.”
During the war, Alajbegovic said Serbs tried to kill him several times and once hung him, but let him down. During the past few days of arson and looting in Grbavica, he said, he and his wife remained barricaded in their apartment.
It took 30 minutes for them to remove the barricade Tuesday morning.
During Monday’s melee in Grbavica, international soldiers and police monitors ducked in and out of burning buildings, trying to rescue the besieged residents intent on staying.
Fires forced some into the streets. “This is hell!” shouted one elderly woman as she ran out of her blazing apartment.
Groups of Serb thugs drove around and threw hand grenades, according to international police monitors. One exploded close to a safe house set up by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, where 21 people sought shelter Monday night.
“There’s a lot of burning and people are terrified,” said Dr. Reinkard Hecker, a doctor with the U.N. agency. By evening more than a dozen houses and buildings - including parts of the police academy - were ablaze.
A Bosnian Serb policeman attempted to rape a Serb woman at gunpoint Monday, but was stopped and detained by soldiers from the NATO-led peace force. The soldiers turned the man over to Bosnian Serb police, who immediately released him.