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UN Efforts Will Bring Gas And Electricity to Sarajevo

By Daniel Williams
The Washington Post

Limited supplies of electricity and natural gas will be restored to Sarajevo within two weeks in another step loosening the Serb siege of the city, U.N. officials said Thursday.

Representatives of the Muslim-led Bosnian government and Serb rebels met this week to work out the agreement on power supplies. The utilities will be restored to levels that prevailed last April, the last time the Serbs let power and gas flow into the Bosnian capital, the U.N. officials explained.

If repairs to damaged pipelines and wires go as planned, home heating and cooking gas will begin to be available here within five days. Electricity may flow for at least a few hours a day within two weeks to all parts of the city, which is divided between Bosnian government and separatist Serb sectors.

The restoration of electric power also would mean that water from the Serb-controlled main reservoir can be pumped into the city, reducing the need for delivery by tank trucks and distribution by canisters that must be hand-carried over Sarajevo's hilly terrain.

"Sarajevo is not yet an open city," said John Fawcett, a U.N. reconstruction official. "But there is a political agreement on gas and electricity."

The announcement came on the heels of the withdrawal of about 250 Serb heavy weapons from the hills around Sarajevo. Few shells have been fired into the city during the past three weeks, as the Serbs appeared cowed by NATO airstrikes on military installations and bridges.

U.N. officials gave a final breakdown of the weaponry pulled out of a NATO exclusion zone covering territory within 12.5 miles of the city center. The list included 55 tanks, with another 10 reported to be out of commission but still in place; 105 mortars of 82mm and above; six antiaircraft weapons and 69 artillery pieces.

The total fell below previous estimates of the amount of heavy weaponry within range of the city - more than 300. The difference has to do with the calibers of mortar permitted to stay under an agreement worked out with the Serbs by Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke. Mortars under 82mm were allowed, as well as some antiaircraft guns the Serbs contended were necessary to protect their areas.

Those weapons can still terrorize civilians, and NATO and the United Nations have threatened to lash out with artillery or airstrikes if firing resumes. "We'll see if we were taken for a ride," said U.N. spokesman Chris Gunness.

The Serbs have opened gas and limited electrical supplies in the past, including last winter. Such moves benefit the population in parts of the city under their control as well as the majority living under the Muslim-led government.

Gas reaches many individual apartments here through jury-rigged rubber piping. Winter is a roulette wheel of accidents, as the odorless gas escapes into homes whenever pilot lights go out due to uneven supplies. When the flow resumes, the gas builds up, someone lights a flame, and kaboom.

Natural gas arrives in Sarajevo through a pipeline running from Hungary through Serb-controlled territory; the gas itself is supplied by Russia. U.N. officials are trying to negotiate with Russia to resume the flow, cut off by Moscow because the suppliers are owed $100 million in back payments for previous winters.

Despite the recent relaxation of the siege, some of its elements remain in place. Sarajevans still cannot travel in and out of the city easily. Three roads opened by the Serbs recently are only for the use of U.N. relief and military escorts. Flights into the newly reopened airport are also limited to U.N. use.

Roads for civilian use would ease the city's supply of coal and logs for heating, as well as other commerce. In the past, the Serbs have prohibited the United Nations from bringing in logs for fireplaces, as well as sheeting to help keep heat in homes with shell holes.

A treacherous, unpaved road over Mount Igman, southwest of the city, is currently the only land route open to civilians. It is both slippery and vulnerable to sniper fire.

While Sarajevo is regaining a semblance of normalcy, little has changed in the isolated east Bosnian town of Gorazde, which also is supposed to be under NATO and U.N. protection. Relief convoys into the town still face Serb delays and harassment en route. Utilities and other services are still a distant dream.