CNN Mission: Peace

NATO intervenes to quell
fires in Sarajevo suburb

March 9, 1996
Web posted at: 7:50 p.m. EST (0050 GMT)

building on fire

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- NATO went beyond its stated military role Saturday and sent firefighters to douse blazes lit by arsonist gangs in the Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza. The area is to be transferred Tuesday from Bosnian Serb to Muslim-Croat Federation control.

Large numbers of fires burned unattended in Ilidza Saturday, destroying houses, flats, and a bicycle factory and filling the air with dense black smoke.

The Serb fire department shut down several days ago as local authorities abandoned the suburb, which is due to come under federation rule Tuesday under the Dayton peace agreement.

The NATO-led peace Implementation Force (IFOR), under pressure from residents to restore order, finally agreed to summon a fire engine from the federation-held suburb of Hrasnica to deal with the fires.

NATO urges Serbs to stay

Senior NATO and U.N. officials met Saturday with Serbs in the Sarajevo suburb Ilidza to assure them they could safely remain in their homes after the Muslim Croat federation takes control Tuesday.

Thousands of Serbs have already left Ilidza, the fourth of five Sarajevo suburbs to pass to Muslim-Croat control under the Dayton peace accord. Some have been burning the buildings as they flee the suburb and pending Muslim-Croat rule.

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About 100 mostly elderly Serb residents came to a chilly schoolhouse Saturday to discuss safety concerns with the NATO commander of ground forces in Bosnia, British Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Walker, and international police commissioner Peter Fitzgerald.

Walker urged the Serbs to stay and find out for themselves that "there is no threat" from their former war enemies.

Some residents complained that the peacekeeping force was refusing to help maintain law and order in Ilidza.

During the meeting, one man shouted at Walker and Fitzgerald that international police had refused to put out a fire in a municipal building.

"We asked for that and the answer was precise, 'We are not going to do that,'" the man said.

Despite assurances from the officials, the message from the meeting was clear: No one could protect them.

"We have caused the guns to fall silent. We have caused the armies to withdraw. There are large numbers of IFOR troops in an around Sarajevo and the suburbs. We cannot guarantee individual safety to every Serb living in Sarajevo," Walker said.



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