bosnia report
New Series No. 2 January - February 1998
Suad's Story (broadcast)

To get to Suad's flat I had to take a route I never thought possible and which, for the three and a half years that I knew and worked in Sarajevo, was literally impossible. I had always been intrigued by the lay out of the buildings on the other side of the front line, because there was, during the war, a sniper who would amuse himself by firing endless rounds from a high velocity rifle of some sort on a trajectory that ran parallel to the window of my office. Sometimes the bullets would scream past inches from the glass and scrape the fibreglass cladding of the wall further down the building, and though this was irritating it was never frightening because it was clear that, although he could fire parallel to our window, the layout of the buildings on his side prevented him from being able to angle his shot sufficiently to allow him to fire through our window.

Sarajevo ambushes your mind. I had known in my mind how close that sniper must have been, but when I crossed the bridge for the first time and saw with my own eyes how close he really was, I was speechless.

In the war you devoted all your energy to survival and you made it from day to day and thought little about what tomorrow might hold. Now that peace has descended, the shock of what occurred also descends, and it descended on me with a force I had not expected when I crossed the bridge and saw for myself why the sniper had been able to fire parallel to, but not through, my window. He was so close.

I walked through the ruins that had been another no go zone in the war - below Sarajevo's ancient Jewish cemetery. It looks like Dresden after allied bombardment. This was where Serbs and Bosnians faced each other across a few feet of rubble. In places no more than a brick wall separated you from your enemy. He was inches away. You could hear his voice murmur in the silence of the night and you knew that you would have to kill him at dawn or risk being killed by him.

Suad, the walk to whose flat had taken me on this shocking journey which so ambushed my sense of what had happened here, had once spent eleven terrifying days digging trenches for the Bosnian army in this deadly place. It was he whose graphic description of the sound of Serb voices drifting across the narrow stretch of rubble that was no man's land, who had first alerted me to the closeness of the war. And Suad's continuing story is relevant still.

Suad is one of the cleansed. He is from FoÑa in the Drina Valley, a town that was half Serb and half Muslim in its population. Suad left Foca with his wife and son when fighting first broke out. He brought them to Sarajevo and then returned to collect his parents. By then it was too late. Serb paramilitaries had baÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ rricaded the road. The town's Muslim men were rounded up and killed or imprisoned. The women were driven out, either towards Croatia or to be jailed in Montenegro.

Suad did not know this until by chance he ran into a fellow survivor in Sarajevo. 'Your father was murdered in your home, Suad', the man told him. 'Your mother saw everything. She's a prisoner in Montenegro. I dug your father's grave.'

Suad tracked down his mother. She was eventually released. She came into Sarajevo during the war, on her hands and knees, through the secret tunnel under the airport runway that kept the city's defences alive during the siege.

The Dayton Peace agreement - signed two years ago - is supposed to allow Suad and his family to go home. 'Are you joking?', his mother says to me. 'Go home to those neighbours who killed my husband before my eyes? Go home to a place called Republika Srpska, when we are not Serbs? It's not a serious prospect for us to go home while those people are still in power there.'

And that is the rock on which the Dayton peace agreement is foundering, and the reason why there is another war in Bosnia brewing. The Bosnian government side stil1 aspires to reunite the country, so that in the end ethnic cleansing will not be rewarded. The Serb side still aspires to divide the country, and is doing so, in a stealthy, incremental way which makes its separate state in Bosnia more of a reality with each month that passes, and in contravention of its obligations under the Dayton agreement.

The implications of this are grave. If the Serbs get their own state, then the Croats in the west of Bosnia will demand one too. The Muslims will be forced into a small and unsustainable state in the centre of the country, which will be condemned for ever to poverty and conflict.

The Muslims have been on the receiving end of aggression before. They are not going to let it happen again. Everywhere I go in Sarajevo now I sense this hardening of opinion. An old friend from the war years who was once a journalist is now a senior government official. 'If the situation is turning liberals like me into war lords', he says, with a steeliness that chills me, 'think what it is doing to the hardliners in central Bosnia. The plain truth is that we are being ghettoized by Serb and Croat state-building. If we do not reunite our country, by force if necessary, our children will grow up to be terrorists. There will be a hopeless European intifada. That is why a new short sharp war of territorial redemption may be necessary.'

The Bosnians are building themselves an army. It is an open secret in Sarajevo that there is covert rearming taking place in preparation for the day when all efforts to persuade Republika Srpska to implement Dayton will finally be exhausted, when NATO will pull out, and when Bosnia will launch its war of territorial redemption, to take back what it lost in those dark days of 1992-3. If Suad ever goes home he will do so in circumstances in which his Serb neighbours, because of their continued adherence to the idea of ethnic purity - the idea they fought the war to defend - will lose everything.

Broadcast on BBC World Service 19 December 1997, under the rubric: 'From Our Own Correspondent'.


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