Clambering through the ruins of the burned-out National Library on Saturday, two U.S. congressmen, one of them Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), encountered local children begging for favors.
When the politicians offered small American flags, the children demurred. They wanted hard currency--German marks, to be exact.
"Tell him that it's hard to exchange dollars. It's much better if he has some German marks," Danijela Bijelonja, 10, told a translator accompanying the Americans.
The encounter illustrated the immense demands that will be made on Washington and Western Europe to rebuild Bosnia if a U.S.-led peace plan falls into place.
World Bank and other studies have estimated the cost will run into the billions of dollars. Already U.S. and European officials are touring Sarajevo to see what needs to be done.
Rohrabacher, a member of the House International Relations Committee, and Rep. George P. Radanovich (R--North Fork) toured the ruins as part of an unofficial visit.
Rohrabacher said he found the destruction overwhelming.
"This is a loss to all mankind, not just to the people of Sarajevo," said Rohrabacher, standing in the ruins of the National Library, once a jewel among the city's 19th-Century buildings from the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The library and hundreds of rare books and historical documents were destroyed during the Bosnian Serb artillery barrages in May, 1992.
Pulling a small American flag from his coat pocket, Rohrabacher proudly handed it to the children, saying, "Here. Take this."
"I prefer if you have German marks," Edin Osincic, 8, said swiftly.
Taken aback, the congressmen produced two dollar bills, to no avail.