SARAJEVO, BOSNIA, Jan. 3, 1996 — William J. Perry has tried to visit Sarajevo three times in the last two years. Sniper fire and severe weather canceled his first two attempts. This time he made it.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 landed at Sarajevo airport today, and the ethnic war's destruction became a concrete reality for the U.S. defense secretary. Images that have haunted the world for nearly four years came to life.
Driving from the airport to the city, the road is lined with burned out houses, collapsed buildings and bullet-ridden barricades. On the outskirts, whole neighborhoods remain silent, destroyed, abandoned.
Entering the city, barricades of scrap metal and wrecked cars remain pushed to the curb. Nearly every building bears the scars of battle. High-rises are collapsed; blackened holes in apartment buildings bear witness to repeated shelling.
"We've known for years of the devastation," Perry told reporters after seeing the city and meeting with NATO and local officials. "Nevertheless, it is unspeakably saddening to see it firsthand."
More than 10,000 people were killed in Sarajevo during the war, Perry said. "It's just appalling that this could happen in Europe of the 1990s -- that the world would let this happen," he said.
The world now has its chance to bring peace to Bosnia, Perry said. NATO's actions resulted in a cease-fire. Negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, resulted in a peace agreement.
"Sarajevo and Bosnia have had an absence of war for over a month, and that's because of the resolute action of NATO," he said. "All NATO nations should be proud of that. But an absence of war is not the same as a peace. There's an opportunity now to create a peace."
While Perry says he is optimistic, he said creating a lasting peace is going to take hard work by NATO and by the Bosnians. NATO has one year to perform many difficult tasks. At present, the peace implementation mission involving more than 20,000 U.S. ground forces is on schedule and going well, according to Perry.
Perry said he believes the warring parties are ready for peace, but he stressed they must be willing to let go of the past. "After four years of hatred and killing, they have to be willing to put that behind them and work to achieve a peace," he said. "There's every reason to believe the Bosnian people are willing to put their hatreds behind them now and build a new country, build a peace for their children and their grandchildren."
Since the Dayton agreement was signed Dec. 14, Perry said, the parties have complied with the peace agreement and cooperated with NATO's implementation force. The recent detainment of 16 Bosnian citizens by Bosnian Serbs is a police matter, Perry said, but NATO forces may become involved in the absence of an established police force.
The United Nations transferred authority to NATO's peace implementation force Dec. 20. The transition went smoothly, a NATO spokesman said. Some multinational troops already in the region simply replaced their blue U.N. Protection Force berets with national caps and became part of the NATO force.
"What has been most impressive has been the attitude of the parties toward the agreement they signed up to do," said British Brig. Gen. Andrew Cumming, director of the implementation force's joint operations center. "They have really gone to it with a will."
According to Cumming, anti-aircraft radar were all switched off and checkpoints controlling movement throughout the area were removed. He said the parties have indicated they plan to meet the 30-day deadline for withdrawing their forces from the zones of separation established by the agreement, and there is growing evidence they are doing that -- people are moving.
Factions have also indicated they will reduce the number of active duty forces by up to 80 percent. Minefields are being marked, but snow hinders actual mine removal, Cumming said.
U.S. Army Maj. Thomas Moyer, spokesman for the rapid reaction corps, was one the first Americans to arrive. Having served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer in Grenada and in Beirut, he said he was somewhat prepared for the evidence of the war's wrath he saw firsthand Dec. 7. But, he said, he was surprised to see vegetable gardens in any available patch of earth.