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Sarajevo Shoppers Won't Buy Pricey Goods - or Peace Talks

IN the crowded market where one artillery shell killed 68 people last February, only the international community is viewed with more skepticism than the four-month cessation of hostilities announced New Year's weekend.

Weary of war and false hopes, vendors and shoppers seem afraid to believe that peace may have come to Bosnia and bitterly accuse the United States of abandoning them.

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``There is nothing to this cease-fire. It's going to end up the same as all the other peace plans - failure,'' says Enver Smajic, a disabled veteran sitting a few feet from the ugly crater left by the shell. ``[President Clinton] just talked about taking some action, about doing something, but he did nothing.''

Mr. Smajic says more war is the only way to create peace in Bosnia. ``If we could send the same shell ... to their marketplace, then the Serbs would be [quiet],'' he says. ``We have to negotiate because we don't have any artillery....''

Smajic echoes other residents who say Bosnia is under heavy pressure to say it lost a war it was never allowed to fully fight. A United Nations arms embargo imposed on the former Yugoslavia has tied the hands of the large, but poorly equipped Bosnian Army.

``I don't believe in the [West],'' says Ferit Dautovic, shopping with his five-year-old son Tarik. ``I believe only the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and dear God will save us.''

Several shoppers in the market - made up of dozens of booths selling eggs, fruit, candy bars, and many other items smuggled into the city - say they had given up hope the West would help them militarily after it failed to stop a Bosnian Serb offensive against the UN ``safe area'' in the northwest town of Bihac last fall.

Others repeated the long-running Bosnian call for a lifting of the UN arms embargo and NATO bombing of heavily armed Bosnian Serb forces to equalize the conflict.

``I was here when the shell fell. I was wounded and had shrapnel in my head. I'm lucky to be alive,'' says Mejra Mujcinovic, a wizened woman selling three pairs of wool socks and gloves she knit herself. ``Our only hope is Clinton. I think he should defend us by bombing the [Bosnian Serb] positions ... our only hope is the US Air Force.''

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Aid workers say the dark mood in the market at a time when peace may be breaking out in Bosnia reflects the toll that three grinding years of on-again, off-again attacks have taken on residents. The city marked its 1,000th day under siege last weekend. More than 10,000 Sarajevo residents have died since the war began, and the population has dropped from 340,000 to less than 230,000.

``If there's peace, the atmosphere should be there to move forward with your life, but you can't,'' says Vedran Drakovlic, a Sarajevan field officer for the Red Cross. ``You're still completely besieged. You haven't got electricity or gas; some areas don't have water.''

The bombing of the market last February prompted NATO bombing threats that led Serb forces to withdraw their heavy weapons or turn them over to UN peacekeepers. Roads in and out of the city were opened, and UN aid convoys entered the city freely. But in July, the Bosnian Serbs again cut off the city and intermittent sniper fire and wire-guided missile attacks resumed.

A Christmas Eve cease-fire brokered by former President Jimmy Carter has been largely upheld by both sides, and the new four-month cessation of hostilities agreement calls for the re-opening of roads.

But with dozens of cease-fire agreements having come and gone in the nearly three-year-old war, many residents said they were simply concentrating on surviving and paying little attention to the talk of peace.

``I don't think about [the talks] at all. I only think about getting money and surviving,'' Sejo Frasto says, as he eyes the expensive smuggled fresh eggs that most Sarajevans can't afford. ``The cease-fire won't last. It's only a Serb trick.''

Several young people expressed a desire to leave even if peace comes to the city. ``I just want to get out of here. I can't see any future here,'' says teenager Sanja Cico. ``We've lost all hope.''

Raniza, a woman in a frayed red jacket selling a handful of candy bars, says two of her brothers-in-law have been killed in the fighting, and her sister and brother have been shot by snipers.

``Only the Bosnian Army will free us, nobody else will,'' she says. ``The Americans, the West, the whole world will not help us.''

The only shopper who was optimistic about peace was Salko Repesa, a 40-year veteran of the Yugoslav National Army who has had 15 members of his family killed or wounded in the conflict.

``There must be, there will be peace,'' he says, ``because the people are so tired, and day by day the pressure from the people on the politicians is getting stronger ....''

But Sulejman Bjelonja reflects the vast majority of Sarajevans interviewed as they shuffle through the market in worn, heavy winter coats looking at, but not buying, the expensive food. ``It depends on whether the Serbs want to keep what they have now,'' he says. ``This is winter, and it suits us also to rest a bit, but the spring is something different.''

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