Serbs take their dead in flight from Muslim rule


THE dead are rising from their graves around Sarajevo as desperate Serbs try to take their deceased loved ones with them on a flight from Muslim rule.

In the Serb held suburb of Ilidza four men bent low over an open grave. They strained on the ropes and with a gruesome squelch the coffin of Velimir Savic (28), a soldier killed last year, returned to the land of the living.

"Can you imagine how difficult this is for us? It's worse than the original funeral to have to pull him out again," an angry bystander said.

"Don't take pictures! You wrote bad things about us during the war and now you want to look at our misery."

In just three weeks, under the peace plan for Bosnia, the Serbheld areas around Sarajevo are to be handed to the control of the Muslim led government. By mid March the Muslim led army can enter the Serb suburbs.

Serb pleas to delay the transfer have fallen on deaf ears. Having fought the Muslim led army for 3 1/2 years for the right to live separately few now relish government rule. Most say, reluctantly, that they have no choice but to quit their homes.

Orthodox Serbs revere their dead and no one wants to leave their loved ones behind. Until now few had the courage for the macabre task of exhuming husbands, brothers or friends. But as the time to leave grows near, desperation has prompted action.

"I didn't even dream this would start to happen," said Ivica, the head gravedigger. "But people say they cannot live without being able to come to the grave every Sunday to light a candle and put down some flowers.

He jumped down into a pit of mud and the broken wood of a rotten coffin lid. Above him Ms Radmila Dusanovic wailed and screamed.

"My brother, my brother, my God, my God," she cried as with their hands the grave diggers lifted the tattered remnants of Slobodan Djuric's corpse into a new tin lined coffin.

Djuric was buried in 1991 and there was little left except clothes and bones when he reappeared yesterday. A chorus of mourners burst into tears at the grisly sight.

"I didn't leave you like this. How can I take these bones to our mother? What will she say?" Radmila wailed. Her husband supported her as she fell into a faint by the graveside.

Djuric was to be transported to a new grave deep inside Serb held territory, and Ivica, wiping the stench of death off his hands under a running tap, said he expected two or three exhumations every day for the rest of the week.

Mr Miro Saraa, a metal worker, said he had made 15 temporary coffins for friends but only had the tin to make 30 more.

"I'm the only guy around here who can do this, so even though I don't like it I don't have any choice."

He said he and everyone he knew were planning to leave. He had just returned from the Serbheld border town of Zvornik where he left most of his household goods with a friend but did not yet have a home for his family.

"I'm hoping to find some Muslim who used to have a house in Zvornik so I can exchange with him," said Saraba as he turned the corners of a fresh coffin with his pliers.

He scorned suggestions that it was safe for him to stay, as the international community says it will be, and said he was convinced an amnesty for Serb soldiers declared by the Bosnian government meant nothing.

"My nature is to smile but my soul is sad. We may have to leave but I am proud that at the end we won our own republic," he said, referring to the Republika Srpska which forms one half of Bosnia.

Dan de Luce reports from Belgrade: The Croatian Foreign Minister, Mr Mate Granic, arrived in the Serbian capital of Belgrade yesterday in a ground breaking visit expected to create conditions for normal relations between the former enemies.

Mr Granic's one day trip was the first official visit by a Zagreb foreign minister to Serbia since the war started four years ago in former Yugoslavia.

Both Croatia and Serbia are under pressure from the west to recognise each other diplomatically after the signing of the Dayton Balkan peace accord last month.