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Hope Prevails After War's Devastation

By Linda Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

SARAJEVO, BOSNIA, Jan. 3, 1996 – William J. Perry has tried to visit Sarajevo three times in the last two years. Sniper fire and severe weather canceled his first two attempts. This time he made it.

A U.S. Air Force C-17 landed at Sarajevo airport today, and the ethnic war's destruction became a concrete reality for the U.S. defense secretary. Images that have haunted the world for nearly four years came to life.

Burned out houses, collapsed buildings and bullet-ridden barricades line the road from the airport to the city. Driving from the airport to the city, the road is lined with burned out houses, collapsed buildings and bullet-ridden barricades. On the outskirts, whole neighborhoods remain silent, destroyed, abandoned.

Entering the city, barricades of scrap metal and wrecked cars remain pushed to the curb. Nearly every building bears the scars of battle. High-rises are collapsed; blackened holes in apartment buildings bear witness to repeated shelling.

"We've known for years of the devastation," Perry told reporters after seeing the city and meeting with NATO and local officials. "Nevertheless, it is unspeakably saddening to see it firsthand."

More than 10,000 people were killed in Sarajevo during the war, Perry said. "It's just appalling that this could happen in Europe of the 1990s -- that the world would let this happen," he said.

The world now has its chance to bring peace to Bosnia, Perry said. NATO's actions resulted in a cease-fire. Negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, resulted in a peace agreement.

"Sarajevo and Bosnia have had an absence of war for over a month, and that's because of the resolute action of NATO," he said. "All NATO nations should be proud of that. But an absence of war is not the same as a peace. There's an opportunity now to create a peace."

While Perry says he is optimistic, he said creating a lasting peace is going to take hard work by NATO and by the Bosnians. NATO has one year to perform many difficult tasks. At present, the peace implementation mission involving more than 20,000 U.S. ground forces is on schedule and going well, according to Perry.

Perry said he believes the warring parties are ready for peace, but he stressed they must be willing to let go of the past. "After four years of hatred and killing, they have to be willing to put that behind them and work to achieve a peace," he said. "There's every reason to believe the Bosnian people are willing to put their hatreds behind them now and build a new country, build a peace for their children and their grandchildren."

Since the Dayton agreement was signed Dec. 14, Perry said, the parties have complied with the peace agreement and cooperated with NATO's implementation force. The recent detainment of 16 Bosnian citizens by Bosnian Serbs is a police matter, Perry said, but NATO forces may become involved in the absence of an established police force.

The United Nations transferred authority to NATO's peace implementation force Dec. 20. The transition went smoothly, a NATO spokesman said. Some multinational troops already in the region simply replaced their blue U.N. Protection Force berets with national caps and became part of the NATO force.

"What has been most impressive has been the attitude of the parties toward the agreement they signed up to do," said British Brig. Gen. Andrew Cumming, director of the implementation force's joint operations center. "They have really gone to it with a will."

According to Cumming, anti-aircraft radar were all switched off and checkpoints controlling movement throughout the area were removed. He said the parties have indicated they plan to meet the 30-day deadline for withdrawing their forces from the zones of separation established by the agreement, and there is growing evidence they are doing that -- people are moving.

Factions have also indicated they will reduce the number of active duty forces by up to 80 percent. Minefields are being marked, but snow hinders actual mine removal, Cumming said.

U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Moyer, spokesman for the rapid reaction corps, was one the first Americans to arrive. Having served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer in Grenada and in Beirut, he said he was somewhat prepared for the evidence of the war's wrath he saw firsthand Dec. 7. But, he said, he was surprised to see vegetable gardens in any available patch of earth.

"That struck me as odd," he said. "What used to be grass in between sidewalks and streets are now garden plots all the way down what was called 'sniper alley.' I understand during the siege of Sarajevo, people had to plant vegetable gardens around the city for the own subsistence."

The attitude throughout the country has changed dramatically since he arrived in Bosnia, Moyer said. "When I first came here, there were checkpoints all over the place and you had to show your identity card. There were still traffic jams trying to get through those checkpoints. Those checkpoints have all been taken away. I've seen a 100 percent increase in the freedom of movement throughout the country."

Although Moyer said he hasn't had too much contact with members of the local military forces, he said they seem very cordial and friendly toward the NATO troops. "I think they're looking at us with a cautious eye because IFOR is kind of new and they're used to the U.N. Protection Force being here. I think generally we're well accepted."

Navy Cmdr. Bob Anderson, the U.S. liaison at NATO's joint information bureau in Sarajevo, said the city was pretty bleak when he arrived about two weeks ago.

Echoing Perry, he said, "You hear about the destruction, but when all of a sudden you're on the front lines, it overwhelms you."

Living conditions in the city have changed enormously since Anderson arrived, he said. Power in the building went out at the information headquarters in the Holiday Inn downtown and it continued to go out periodically thereafter, he noted. There was very little running water and no heat.

"Now," he said, "we haven't had any power failures. We've had not only running water, but hot water for the last couple of days. You can feel Sarajevo's slowly coming back to life. The longer we can maintain this lack of hostilities, the better chance it all has coming back together."

Nearly three weeks ago, Air Force Col. John Kirkwood, a public affairs officer from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, arrived in Sarajevo to serve at NATO's implementation force headquarters. He said he was reminded of photographs he'd seen of German towns bombed out during World War II.

"Total devastation," Kirkwood said. "Dogs and their puppies wandering in the streets all emaciated. People walking around pulling carts that should have been drawn by animals. No hope in their faces. Eyes very sad. It was a scene reminiscent of 50 years ago."

But things are changing rapidly, according to Kirkwood. Life and light are returning to Sarajevo. "If you go out at night in the city, one of things that's most encouraging is seeing young people out trying to be alive again -- smiles coming to their faces -- laughing with each other," he said. "The people will describe it to you, how a month or two ago, people were hunkered down in their homes. There's a very obvious attempt now to become human again."

Although the war's scars blight the city, a French officer who's been in Sarajevo for two months said hope is definitely visible in the streets of the city.

French Col. Charles-Henry Noirmont, a spokesman for the French defense ministry said, "You cannot implement peace just by the force of the bayonet. It is not enough. You also have to build confidence, dialogue and mutual understanding."

According to Noirmont, Sarajevans, especially the young people, are beginning to go out again, to mingle in the cafes. "They are craving laughter and light," he said. After 43 months of death and darkness, "they are greedy for life."

On Christmas Eve, Noirmont attended services at the city's Catholic cathedral. He said it's a tradition for all Sarajevans, regardless of creed, to go to the cathedral, because Christmas is a common celebration for everyone. He compared the atmosphere that night to the day the Berlin Wall crumbled.

"I think Christmas Eve was the turning point for Sarajevans," Noirmont said. "There were lights, transportation, peace. It was so crowded you couldn't get to the cathedral. It was the first time in four years that these people could walk in the streets and go to Mass without having a sense of danger, of being shot at or shelled."

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