February 18, 1996
Web posted at: 6:10 p.m EST (2310 GMT)
From Correspondent Brent Sadler
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Even as Balkan leaders met in Rome Sunday to reinforce the Bosnian peace commitment, a new wave of anxious Bosnian Serbs abandoned their homes in a Sarajevo suburb.
The refugees are turning their backs on the principle of co-existence and instead choosing to follow a trail of refugees who've already left the district of Hadzici and other Serb-dominated Sarajevo suburbs.
By the middle of next month, Hadzici and four other city districts are to be fully transferred to the Muslim-led Bosnian government. Under a plan worked out by Bosnian peace coordinator Carl Bildt, the first stages of the handover will begin within a week.
Fearing retribution from Muslim leaders, Serb families are leaving by day and by night for the Serb-controlled town of Bratunac in eastern Bosnia. Several hundred people boarded buses paid for by the Serb authorities -- the first organized flights of Sarajevo's Serbs in anticipation of the transfer of government authority.
"We don't want to go," said one man. "But no one in their right mind would choose to stay. We're following each other like sheep."
"I left everything behind," one woman said, before she was overwhelmed with grief.
For many, it was a tear-stained beginning to a nine-hour journey. It ended in scenes of relief at their destination, deep in Serb territory, where they feel secure.
At the same time, the NATO peace implementation force known as IFOR was marking the 60th day of its mission. Under the Dayton peace accord, all three armies in Bosnia must cooperate with NATO on the location and size of their weapons stockpiles.
On Saturday, U.S. soldiers succeeded in talking, rather than blasting their way, into the headquarters of the Bosnian Serb army, where they wanted to inspect weapons. IFOR troops were denied access to the headquarters on two previous occasions.
For the men in command of the weapons inspections, the military directive is simple.
"Go to all the weapons collection points throughout Bosnia to verify what's there and make a record," Army Colonel John Batiste said. The soldiers tasks' include compiling lists, checking out the condition of guns and armor and assessing the quantities of ammunition.
Since the peace accord was signed last December, the Bosnian armies have been disengaged along a 600-mile front line, deadly minefields have been marked and cleared, and roads and bridges which had been closed for years have been re-opened by NATO.
However, for all the practical progress, the difficulty remains of stitching together a lasting and politically viable solution to the conflict.
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