American troops watched helplessly as Milenko Rakic tore electrical cables from the house where he was born in hurried, last-minute preparations Friday to flee the town.
The cables were among the last items Rakic could take as he and the 18,000 other Bosnian Serbs in this town packed all their belongings, unscrewing every toilet, bathtub and electrical socket. They even took the windows and roof tiles, leaving only bare walls.Rakic, 49, was among the last to leave Odzak before the NATO-led force charged with implementing peace in Bosnia took over.
The northern Bosnian town falls inside the 2 1/2-mile buffer zone that took effect Friday along the front lines. In March, control of Odzak will pass to a Muslim-Croat federation in one of the many land swaps of the U.S.-brokered peace accord.
The Friday deadline called for all troops to abandon the buffer zone, but did not apply to civilians. Even so, the Serb residents fear living under enemy rule.
They took away what they could - and destroyed what they couldn't. Some fleeing residents burned down or mined the shells of their houses in an ultimate revenge against the Croats and Muslims who plan to resettle the town.
"If I can't live in my home, no one will," said Rakic, who was moving to Modrica, seven miles to the north, which will remain in the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia mandated in the peace accord.
Odzak, before the war a prosperous Croat-dominated municipality, now resembles a ghost town. Stray dogs roam the streets, and yards are filled with garbage and broken furniture that no one - not even looters - wanted to take.
"We cannot wait to be butchered by our former neighbors," said Goran Miletic, 18. "What could be expected, when we chased them out at the beginning of the war?"
The exodus was the latest in a series of movements of population during the brutal four-year war, which left an estimated 200,000 people dead or missing and 2 million displaced.
"It's sad to see those people leave their homes in such a fashion," said U.S. Army Capt. Nick Charles of Washington, idling in a Humvee as soldiers from his armored battalion negotiated the formal takeover of Odzak.
U.S. troops distributed a NATO publication in the local language, describing their mission in an attempt to foster trust among the Bosnian factions. But there was little they could do to stop the fleeing Serbs.