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SARAJEVO BUS CROSSES ETHNIC LINE

The first city bus to cross the ethnic boundary line south of Sarajevo carried a lone passenger Friday - an elderly Serb who hopped on at the route's midpoint and went along for a free ride.

"I used to live in Ilidza but now I'm a refugee," said Branko, 57, as he climbed aboard the ancient white bus outside Lukavica barracks in Serb territory."I'm going to enjoy the ride. I haven't seen Sarajevo in four years, since the war started. This is a good chance."

While the inaugural run of the inter-entity bus was not a success in terms of passengers carried, U.N. relief officials are convinced more riders will materialize once the word gets round that the service is available.

"They didn't even have a sign announcing where the bus was going so we had to make one up," said Kris Janowski, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

The paper sign arrived and was taped to the window just before the bus departed Friday afternoon, empty except for a few journalists, from the Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica.

It crossed the "inter-entity boundary line" which divides Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation from its Serb republic without incident despite having been blocked there by Serb police on Friday morning.

UNHCR, which is funding the city's inter-entity bus route, escorted the afternoon run to make sure it got through.

Branko climbed on the bus at Lukavica, lit a Drina cigarette, and began comparing notes about the war with the driver, Dragan Krstic.

The two men, who had never met, chatted about mutual acquaintances, some of whom had been killed in the conflict.

A few people along the road to Ilidza seemed tempted to climb on the bus but all had second thoughts and waved it on.

In the aftermath of Bosnia's 43-month war the country has begun to coalesce into three relatively homogenous Muslim, Serb and Croat territories, contrary to the multi-ethnic goal laid out in the Dayton peace agreement.

Some Serb officials are working hard to turn the inter-entity boundary line into a border rather than an administrative boundary.

They have been blocking bus service and telephone links between the two entities around Sarajevo in an attempt to enforce a de facto, ethnic partition of Bosnia.

While bus routes like the one that opened in Sarajevo on Friday are small steps, U.N. officials say they are essential to breaking down ethnic barriers across the country.

UNHCR plans to begin its own bus service between major cities on either side of the inter-entity boundary line, perhaps starting with a route linking Serb-held Banja Luka with the federation city of Zenica.

Branko stared out the window as the bus rolled from Ilidza into the heart of Sarajevo, past blocks of damaged and destroyed buildings.

"I have a real pain in my heart," he exclaimed. "It's a shame about Sarajevo. The war has ruined everything."