Christian Science Monitor
January 18, 1996
Visit to squalid Srebrenica
By Jonathan S. Landay
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Five months after their troops defied the world and blasted their way into
Srebrenica, thousands of Serb refugees have resettled in what was once a
U.N.-declared "safe area" for Muslims.
One food store, a post office, and the Calypso Cafe, where local Serb police
find shelter from the cold, appear to be the only working businesses in the
wreckage of this town. All of the factories and mosques have been blown up,
mounds of rotting garbage and hulks of rusting cars litter the sidewalks,
and the icy air echoes with chain saws and axes hewing firewood for heating
Four American journalists, including this reporter, on Tuesday paid the
first unhampered visit by Western reporters to Srebrenica since Bosnian Serb
forces last July stormed the former safe area as the international community
stood by and watched.
Under the command of the Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic,
Bosnian Serb forces expelled some 40,000 Muslims they had besieged and
bombarded for more than three years. Another 3,500 to 5,500 Muslims,
according to a U.N. report, are missing. They are believed to have been
massacred while escaping and buried in up to six mass graves in the
The area is part of the operational area of the 20,000-member U.S.
contingent of the NATO Implementation Force, which is policing the
U.S.-brokered Bosnia peace settlement. The U.N. War Crimes Tribunal tomorrow
intends to ask IFOR troops to secure the grave sites until spring, when they
plan to exhume the sites.
Bosnian Serb leaders have denied the allegations of massacres. But Milan
Markovic, a Serb native of Srebrenica who helped Serb forces overrun the
town in July, acknowledges otherwise.
"Look at those hills. They used to be covered with trees, but the Muslims
cut them down," he says, pointing to surrounding slopes denuded of firewood
during three winters of siege. "They ruined this town. It used to be pretty.
So, we killed them, we killed them all."
The town resembles an urban wasteland. Every house and building has been
scarred by shrapnel. Dogs nose through the rubble. Refugees have made less
damaged homes habitable with plastic sheeting and materials taken from
unsalvageable residences. They obtain electricity by jerry-rigging wires to
street lights that turn on only once every few days. Running water is also
"It's bad here. There's worse. But it's really bad," says Simo, a grizzled
refugee from the Muslim-controlled town of Bugojno. "I have no job and no
chance of getting one."
Many refugees are from Shipovo and Mrkonjic Grad, towns in northwest Bosnia
that fell in October to a Bosnian Croat assault that helped turn the tide of
the war against the Bosnian Serbs.
Simo says that officials in Shipovo and Mrkonjic Grad directed residents to
go to Srebrenica, the site of a famous medieval silver mine. He says he has
seen no international humanitarian aid since he arrived here some months
No one knows how many refugees have resettled in this town. But it is
obvious the number has begun growing with the arrivals of Serbs from
Serb-held suburbs of Sarajevo that are due to revert to federation control
in mid-March. Trucks and cars filled with household goods and bearing
license plates from "Serb Sarajevo" sit along sidewalks or grind along
Srebrenica's ash-blackened streets.
"I came from Vogosca today," one man says, referring to a northern suburb of
Sarajevo. "I can't stay there. We have no securrity from the Muslims. I had
no other place to go but here."