Undaunted by power of Western allies, Serbs say their land is unconquerable BALKANS CRISIS


CAJNICE, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Western powers are worrying about becoming entangled in a Lebanon-style civil war in Bosnia. But Serbs in this frontier town about six miles from embattled Gorazde say it'll be their Vietnam.

Others have found this land an unconquerable place, they say.

"I don't expect the Americans to bomb us from the air," said a local commander known as Gypsy, a bearded young man in his late twenties, ignoring bursts of machine-gun fire that punctuated the stifling summer air. "But if they want to do it, let them come."

The defiance that has greeted the imminent use of military force to protect aid convoys also suggests that if the Bosnian Serbs are directly assailed, a campaign of terror in Europe and elsewhere could begin.

Earlier in Belgrade, an embittered spokesman for the Bosnian Serbs, Todor Dutina, predicted that an attack on the Serbs would lead to a long war in Bosnia.

"If we are going to go down, then it is better that we all die together in a blazing inferno. It doesn't matter if we are killed by Alia Izetbegovic [Bosnia's Muslim president] or George Bush. We are going to fight to the end," he said.

"Serbs hold legal title to about 65 per cent of the land in Bosnia. That is private property. Why should we give it up? We have survived here over 1,000 years and we are going to survive another 1,000," he added.

Serb fighters here on the front line are uncompromising. Their leader, Radovan Karadzic, may be making gestures of conciliation in an attempt to ward off the military forces that may be directed against Serb positions to open up so-called "death camps" for U.N. inspection and to allow women and children out of Sarajevo. But his people are less ready to give ground.

"If you hit us, then you had better beware. We can hit you back. Nobody in Europe will be safe, I can guarantee you that," said another young man. His bearded colleagues nodded in agreement.

Western intelligence sources say that there are vast quantities of arms, ammunition and food rations in Bosnia that could sustain guerrilla warfare for at least a decade.

Bosnian Serbs also hold most of the factories that produce military hardware.

Many diplomats here privately argue that the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force is seriously flawed because it has no clearly defined military objective. Moreover, they say, events in Bosnia are out of the control of local leaders.

The Bosnian Serbs see themselves as a people with a historic grievance. It gives them a sense of mission and a lack of willingness to compromise.

In the 19th century, Bosnian Serbs staged a series of rebellions against their Turkish masters, making the Balkans an area of instability until the 1878 Congress of Berlin, which made Bosnia-Herzegovina a protectorate of Austria-Hungary.

Austria-Hungary's decision to annex the province in 1908 sparked fresh unrest among Bosnian Serbs, leading to the 1914 assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and the outbreak of World War I.

This time most European governments have come to the conclusion that links between Belgrade and Bosnian Serbs are even closer. They hold Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic responsible for igniting, aiding and encouraging the wars first in Croatia and now in Bosnia-Herzegovina by insisting that all Serbs should live in one country.

The new prime minister of Yugoslavia (consisting only of Serbia and its sister Serb republic Montenegro), California businessman Milan Panic, has announced a program diametrically opposite to Mr. Milosevic's. Mr. Panic said he was prepared to recognize all former Yugoslav republics within their pre-war borders. Yesterday his government recognized Slovenia.

Though Mr. Milosevic formally handed over most foreign dealings to Mr. Panic this week, he still retains the real power in Serbia.

But it is unclear what Mr. Milosevic can -- or intends -- to do. He has not appeared in public for several weeks. He makes no public pronouncements except to protest his innocence in meetings with foreign dignitaries.

In Belgrade, there is a growing public dissatisfaction with Mr. Milosevic. It has dawned on many people that U.N. political and economic sanctions, imposed on Serbia in May, would remain in effect until Mr. Milosevic moves to end the war in Bosnia.

That has meant that ordinary Serbs in Serbia may be the ultimate victims of the Machiavellian manueuvering by their political leaders in general and Mr. Milosevic in particular.

But outside Belgrade, most Serbs have little idea of what is happening in Bosnia. Most get their news from state-controlled Belgrade television which is little more than a Milosevic propaganda machine. It gives the impression Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia have only fought in self-defense. It portrays them as victims of terrible atrocities and "ethnic cleansing" carried out by Croats and Muslims. And it portrays Serbia as the wrongful victim of U.N. sanctions.

The Milosevic government is preparing the people of Serbia for a long, hard winter with shortages of fuel and basic commodities. They are being prepared psychologically not only for shortages and unrest but for service to Serbia as well.

The scenes of a slowly-forming siege mentality are everywhere.

The owner of a deserted road-side restaurant is resigned. "I have no business. I can't get meat anymore."

In a shop in nearby Pljevlja, an incredulous woman asks: "What, no lamb?"

The butcher shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry, requisitioned by the army."

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