CNN Mission: Peace

Bosnian Serbs frantically flee Sarajevo

Mayor surrounded

February 21, 1996
Web posted at: 6:30 p.m. EST (2330 GMT)

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CNN) -- The scene in and around Sarajevo is one close to all-out panic as Bosnian Serbs continue their exodus.

The Serbs are trying to leave town before Friday, when the city and its suburbs begin reunification under the Muslim-led government.

As a sign of the fear and uncertainty, Serbs packed a meeting room in the suburb of Vogosca, demanding information and assistance from the mayor and United Nations police. As the crowd -- many of whom were weeping women -- grew weary, a shouting match broke out.

"This is the same crap you gave us yesterday. We don't want any more of it. We want trucks and buses to move our families out of here," one man shouted.

"Burn everything down -- everything we can't take with us"

-- a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo

The crowd then followed the mayor to his car, accusing him of stranding them.

But in Pale, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic said heavy snow was delaying evacuations. He assured people that more buses, trucks, fuel, food and medicines are on their way.

trucks in snow

"It took me five hours to get here from Pale because of the snow and other trucks," said Ilya Jovanovic, 55, who came to Vogosca to help his sister flee.

Exodus called 'nonsense'

Sarajevo's international police force on Wednesday charged that Bosnian Serb leaders were intimidating Serbs into fleeing the city.


Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, told CNN that Bosnian Serb leaders are promoting the exodus on television and radio, telling people to leave within three days. Janowski called these messages "nonsense."

"We all know these people don't need to leave," he said. If they do decide to leave, there's certainly no reason for them to leave in a rush." (170K AIFF sound or 170K WAV sound)

Secretary of State Warren Christopher said it was expected that some Serbs would flee, but he emphasized that other Serbs should "not succumb to suggestions or pressures that they leave."

Karadzic, on the other hand, blamed the international community for the exodus. He has said since the war began that Serbs cannot live side-by-side with other ethnic groups in Sarajevo.

woman cries

On Tuesday, he ordered 50,000 Bosnian Serbs to leave Sarajevo suburbs

Many of the Serbs fear that once the city is reunited, the Bosnian government will retaliate against them. And if no one helps the Serbs move they say, there's only one alternative: "Burn everything down -- everything we can't take with us," said one Bosnian Serb.

International police and NATO officers are trying to persuade residents to stay. But the presence of international forces is doing little to turn back the tide as Friday's deadline approaches. Trucks and tractors clogged Sarajevo's airport road, transporting people and goods from the suburbs of Ilidza and Hadzici toward Pale.

Vogosca will be the first of five suburbs to switch over to Bosnian federation control over the next month. Success or failure there will set the tone for later transfers of authority.

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