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Departure of Serb Police Ends Three Years' Control on Illidza

By John Pomfret
The Washington Post
ILIDZA, Bosnia-Herzegovina

With insults, shots in the air, widespread arson and an earthshaking explosion inside a courthouse, Serb police - many of them drunk - lurched out of the suburb of Ilidza Monday, bringing to an end three years of Serb rule in Sarajevo's biggest bedroom community.

The anarchic exodus of the angry gunmen in their midnight blue camouflage jumpsuits, watched by crack French NATO troops in firing positions, brought to four the number of Serb-controlled suburbs vacated by Serb politicians and police according to a timetable set out by Western negotiators under the terms of the Dayton peace pact.

Only one Sarajevo suburb, Grbavica, is left in Serb hands. It is scheduled to pass to the control of Muslim-Croat federation authorities on March 19. The following day, Bosnian army troops will be allowed in all five suburbs, marking the formal reunification of Sarajevo after nearly four years of division.

The departure Monday of the Serb police had all the hallmarks of the brutal siege that they and other Serbs had prosecuted around Sarajevo since the Bosnian war began in April 1992. At least 15 of the 30 officers appeared inebriated as they elbowed each other for room in crowded vans. Several of the men pointed automatic weapons out of the car windows and unleashed fusillades of gunfire in the general direction of the blue sky as the vehicles pulled out of town. One man tossed a grenade off a bridge into the Miljacka River, sending a geyser of water and mud into the air.

As a column of Serb trucks, vans, buses and broken-down cars limped out of town, an explosion rocked Ilidza's courthouse, sparking another of this suburb's many blazes Monday. A black plume of smoke curled from the four-story building, casting a pall over the town center as the Serbs, waving the flag of their self-declared republic, left the area for Serb-controlled turf in the hills above Sarajevo. U.N. police reported at least 40 cases of arson as Serbs sought to destroy property so the Muslim-Croat federation could not use it.

Almost as soon as the Serb police left Ilidza, the security situation improved dramatically. Maksim Stanisic, one of the few Serb politicians who is remaining here, issued a statement saying that "things have calmed down considerably." Monday night, only eight fires were seen burning in an area several square miles wide - a marked change from Sunday night, when large swaths of the suburb were ablaze.