January 12, 1996
Web posted at: 11:55 p.m. EST (0455 GMT)
From Correspondent Bill Delaney
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- Top NATO officials arrived in Bosnia Friday to try to smooth over ethnic tensions that threaten the peace mission. They hope to keep 100,000 Serbs from leaving Sarajevo in March, when the Muslim-led government gains control of the capital.
In Serb neighborhoods of Sarajevo, scattered house fires continue to burn in advance of Bosnian government rule. The houses were not set on fire in battle, but by the people who would rather destroy them than see their enemies move in.
In two months Sarajevo will be handed over to Bosnian control. Roughly 100,000 have said they would flee Sarajevo, burning their houses and belongings behind them, if NATO did not grant a six-month delay of the handover. Now, most of them have decided to wait and see whether a deal can be struck to alter the Dayton peace agreement into something they feel they can accept.
But NATO and civilian authorities in Sarajevo say the Dayton agreement won't be changed. What must change, they say, is the level of trust on both sides.
In the Bosnian Serb town in Lukavica, visiting NATO Secretary-General Janvier Solano, along with the president of the Bosnian Serb assembly, Momcila Krajinksnik, tried to reassure the Serbs who are considering pulling out. "We're going to do our best, IFOR is going to do its best to create an atmosphere so that they can stay here. This war has been terrible. It has produced enormous suffering, and it's time to start healing," Solano said. (383K AIFF sound or 383K WAV sound)
Along those lines, the first meetings of the Joint Civilian Commission began. The group is responsible for implementing the civilian aspects of the peace plan. The meetings are chaired by the international community's high representative, Carl Bildt, and were attended Friday by the commander of the NATO-led peace force, U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian government officials, and various aid and reconstruction agencies
For Serb leaders, it was their first return to Sarajevo since the war. Bildt said the leaders were beginning to realize that if too many people move out, it will be a problem for them. "These people have to be taken care of in a situation in which there are already hundreds of thousands of people that need to be taken care of." (230K AIFF sound or 230K WAV sound)
Bildt believes that Serbs can be reassured with nothing more than better information. He says that many Serbs think their movement will be restricted under Bosnian government authority, and he says that belief is "utterly wrong." "There is going to be freedom of movement. No borders, no barriers, nothing that will prevent people from moving back and forth every day, every hour if they want," Bildt said.
But until Serbs experience that promise first hand, their strongest barrier is fear.
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