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Source: BOSTON GLOBE 3 November 1995
Survivors' Accounts of Summer Killings
By Elizabeth Neuffler
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Mevludin Oric was one of the lucky ones who survived Bosnian Serb machine guns in a massacre on a field near Sahanici. But today this refugee
from Srebrenica wishes he were dead.
A man of faith, he has lost his beliefs. He thought that Srebrenica was a U.N. "safe haven" but saw it overrun by rebel Serbs. He trusted in NATO's might, but watched as too few bombs fell too late. He thought Western powers would halt the carnage, but they did nothing.
"If a shell had hit me then, I'd be happy -- I would have been killed fighting for Srebrenica," said Oric, 24, a Bosnian soldier. "Now I know I fought for nothing. I think a deal was made to let Srebrenica fall."
As the warring Bosnian parties meet in Dayton, Ohio, in a U.S.-brokered attempt to reach an enduring peace, the question of who is to blame for Srebrenica hovers at the negotiating table like an unwelcome guest.
It is a supreme irony of the Balkan war, that without the disaster of Srebrenica, the talks might not be taking place at all. It took the image of Dutch U.N. forces wringing their hands as civilians were massacred to prompt a stronger NATO response, which pushed the Serbs back to the bargaining table. It took the collapse of the "safe haven" and other changes in the balance of power, to make a clean division of Bosnia possible.
But this opening for peace came at the expense of 8,500 Bosnian Muslims who are believed to be imprisoned, missing or dead. Many may lie under the earth of mass graves at Nova Kasaba and Sahanici -- perhaps the largest atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.
Human rights officials say the fate of the missing men is a key point at the peace talks. But other questions raised by the fall of Srebrenica and its aftermath will linger long after the talks are completed.
Were the events of last July an accident of history? Was the United Nations deliberately indifferent to military savagery and human suffering? Was Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Balkan nationalist turned peacemaker, part of a deal that led to the enclave's fall? Will the urgency of reaching a peace agreement outweigh survivors' demands for a full accounting?
Details Emerge on Summer Killings
Vengeance knows no bounds in Bosnia. But the slaughter that followed the July 11th capture of Srebrenica set a new standard.
Even so, it has taken months for the extent of the killings and some of the reasons behind them to emerge. After accounts by human rights groups, and an investigation by the Dutch government into the failure of its peacekeepers to prevent or quickly report mass killings, media attention turned on Srebrenica as the peace talks approached. Only in recent weeks, as survivors have been located and interviewed, has detailed testimony come on the events of mid-July.
Srebrenica, a silver-mining town in eastern Bosnia, had already suffered. In 1992, a Serb onslaught drove thousands of Bosnian Muslim refugees into Srebrenica. As hostilities continued,
the Serbs blocked supplies, nearly starving residents to death. In 1993, hungry, weary townspeople cried when U.N. Gen. Philippe Morillon entered the town, declared a cease-fire and made Srebrenica the first United Nations "safe area."
In the "safe haven," Bosnian Muslims were required to turn in their weapons, while Serbs agreed to let convoys enter the enclave. Both sides broke the rules. In some regards, men in Srebrenica provoked the ire of the Serbs who had surrounded them. Bosnian soldiers often used the "safe haven" as a cover for conducting commando raids on nearby Serb villages.
The Serbs and their swaggering commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic, made them pay dearly. Attacking the enclave, they singled out for death men and boys of the enclave, 15,000 of whom fled on July 10th. As the refugees trudged through the woods, their column was broken by a Serb ambush. Machine-gun fire filled the forest. Grenades exploded. Poison gases choked the air.
"Panic broke out," said A. Salihovic, a survivor, who asked his first name not be used when interviewed here last week. "Real panic and chaos. People just couldn't handle it and started screaming and committing suicide in masses."
Those at the end of the column would describe the forest awash with terror and death. "The markers for the path were the dead bodies," said Midhat Taindzic, a 27-year-old school teacher. Those who survived and made their way to the nearest road found Bosnian Serb soldiers waiting for them. They were arrested and bused away.
Some Srebrenica men, like Hurem Suljic, a 55-year-old disabled carpenter, chose not to flee through the woods. He instead sought sanctuary with Dutch U.N. peacekeepers at their compound. But the Dutch, disarmed by the rebel Serbs, stood by as Serb soldiers pulled men and boys from their families.
Many, like Suljic, would be bused away. They were reunited with their friends and neighbors who had fled through the woods on the killing fields of Nova Kasaba, Sahanici and Kravica.
There, on July 12th and afterward, men were lined up rows and shot by rifle-toting Serbs, one after another. "They stacked up like dominoes," Suljic said.
"You'd hear one say, 'look, this one is moving,'" and they would come and shoot him, said Oric, whose cousin took a bullet that had been intended for him. "They shot at us until darkness
fell," said Hakija Huseinovic, a 51-year-old farmer who was jammed into an agricultural warehouse at Kravica that the Serbs then targeted with automatic rifles and grenades.
"It was like hell."
Survivors Certain of a Mladic Order
Survivors have no doubt that the killings were ordered by Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander indicted for war crimes by the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. Several placed Mladic at the scenes of the killings: "He saw everything," Suljic said.
But given the scale of the massacres, refugees and Balkan experts wondered whether the troops of neighboring Serbia, the Yugoslav National Army, were involved -- and whether Serbian
President Slobodan Milosevic, who spawned Bosnian Serb nationalism, helped plan the killings.
The Bosnian government accuses Milosevic of involvement in the massacres. "He's the one that's ultimately responsible for having started these crimes," said Foreign Minister Muhamed
Sacirbey, who said in a television interview this week that Mladic had met with Milosevic in Belgrade for diplomatic talks the day before the assault. "They knew what they were going
to do all along."
Sacirbey pointed to buses with Belgrade license plates that were among those used to evacuate refugees from Srebrenica, some of whom were later killed. The same charges were recorded
by John Shattuck, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights.
Dutch forces in Srebrenica also observed Serbian paramilitary units in the area, according to a report released this week by the Dutch Defense Ministry. The report said the Seselj Militia
and the Arkan Tigers -- brutal commando groups headed by ardent nationalists Vojislav Seselj and Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as "Arkan" -- were seen in the enclave.
Milosevic has denied to U.S. officials that he knew of the attack or the atrocities. And U.N. officials argue that the Bosnian Serbs, given superior military might at Srebrenica, had no need to call on Belgrade. "The Bosnian Serbs did not need support to take the enclave," said a U.N. spokesman, Rida Ettarshay.
Whether the truth will be known is uncertain. The Serbian president is the only link between Western diplomats and the rebel Serbs, given that war crimes indictments have been lodged against Mladic and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic. At the Dayton talks, Milosevic is representing the Bosnian Serbs.
Should it be proved that he knew of the Srebrenica attack, talks would surely founder. It is a point not lost on U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, a chief negotiator.
"It's not my role to make a judgement of whether he is telling the truth or not," Holbrooke said of Milosevic in a television interview this week. "Peace needs the participation of Milosevic and the group he leads."
Refugees Say West Deliberately Failed
As refugees here tell it, responsibility for Srebrenica lies not just with those who participated in the attack. In addition to sins of commission were sins of omission, and refugees believe the West deliberately failed to halt the Serb onslaught and the ensuing massacres.
"I heard Serb soldiers saying, 'The world is allowing us to do this," said Nesib Mandzic, a schoolteacher and one of three Srebrenica residents who represented residents during the crisis.
There is evidence to support this view. Srebrenica was an obstacle to peace. The enclave, along with nearby "safe haven" Zepa, was an island in a hostile sea, isolated from the rest of Bosnian Muslim territory and woefully complicating the political map of Bosnia.
Yet the Bosnian Muslim government refused to give up the enclaves. The Bosnian Serbs refused to create corridors to them. Increasingly, the U.N. realized that maintaining the "safe havens" invited a perpetual headache: member countries not provide the extra troops needed to protect them.
Indeed, the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa -- along with later territorial advances by the Bosnians and Croats -- made Bosnia more easily divisible. "The horrible irony is, had Srebrenica not happened, we would not be where we are today," said Julian Harston, an adviser to former U.N. special envoy Yasushi Akashi.
Three widespread theories are used to explain Srebrenica's fall: that the Bosnian government struck a deal with its enemies and let the enclave be overrun; that U.S. intelligence knew of the attack, but failed to inform the U.N.; that the United Nations, and particularly the force commander, Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, let the enclave fall to be rid of the "safe
Some U.N. sources -- noting that Srebrenica's Bosnian Muslim commander, Naser Oric, and his lieutenants deserted the enclave weeks before the attack -- say that a territorial deal was made.
Srebrenica refugees echo this, saying Bosnian army soldiers told them Srebrenica had been traded for Ilidza, a Serb-held suburb of Sarajevo. The Bosnian government denies this.
Press reports that U.S. intelligence knew of the attack but failed to act prompted the Dutch government to demand an accounting from U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry. German newspapers, citing sources in the German military and intelligence services, have said U.S. intelligence intercepted radio communications discussing the attack between Mladic and Gen. Momcilo Perisic, the commander of the Yugoslav army.
European intelligence sources, noting that an attack on Srebrenica was expected in retaliation for the June Bosnian Army offensive to free Sarajevo, say it is odd that U.S. intelligence did not know more. They also note that U.S. satellite imagery captured possible mass graves after the attack. Why did it not also capture the Serb military buildup?
The Pentagon has denied that it knew of the attack in advance. According to a Dutch Defense Ministry report on Srebrenica, the U.S. government told the Dutch "it received no indications from
intelligence sources pointing to a forthcoming offensive against
Dutch authorities, refugees, and the Bosnian government have charged that the U.N. deliberately let the enclave fall. Lt. Gen. Janvier had privately told U.N. diplomats in May that the enclaves
were indefensible, according to a copy of his comments received this week.
Dutch officials have all but accused the U.N. of abandoning the troops, saying that Janvier overruled their commander's call for air attacks. Several present at a July 10th meeting with
Janvier were surprised when he did not order close air support that day.
The Dutch say they awaited airstrikes that could have saved the enclave. But the United Nations say they are mistaken.
"Airstrikes were not an option," said Col. Harm de Jonge, a former U.N. official. He added, "It never crossed our minds to let Srebrenica fall so we would have one less problem."
Srebrenica refugees aren't convinced. "Srebrenica was a thorn in the side of the U.N.," said Meho Osmanovic, a Bosnian soldier. "Whenever they tried to solve the problems of Bosnia,
the enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa were part of the problem. The only solution was to give Srebrenica to the Serbs."
Today, Bosnian Serbs live in his home in Srebrenica.
Haunting Questions Weigh on the Living
Three months after Srebrenica's fall, more than 25,000 refugees cram into schools and shelters in Tuzla, haunted by horrors they have seen and questions they can't answer.
For Salihovic, who survived multiple ambush attempts and witnessed two massacres, the question is why the survivors of Srebrenica have been forgotten.
"For three and a half years, we lived and fought in this enclave of Srebrenica, where the living conditions were beyond imagination," he says, sitting in his unheated room with only a meager blanket. "And the thanks is this?"
For Munira Mehmedovic, 36, whose husband, brother, nephew, and seven uncles are still unaccounted for, the question is when and if they will ever return. "What shall I do now with three children and no husband?" she asks.
For Camila Omanovic -- who tried to hang herself after she watched rebel Serbs leading men away outside the Dutch compound -- the question is when the truth of Srebrenica will be known.
"Definitely the [Dutch] commander should be put on trial," Omanovic said. "He might say whether or not he was ordered not to help, or really couldn't help. Maybe the real truth will come out."
For Oric, who survived the Sahanici massacre, the question is why he escaped death.
"I survived the massacre, but I have no money for my kids," said Oric, who shares a cramped schoolroom with 29 other refugees. "I ask myself, why me? Why did I survive? Somehow, a bullet didn't reach me. They were flying over my head, my body, but not one reached me."
THE SREBRENICA MASSACRES
After the fall of the "safe haven" of Srebrenica in mid-July, the surrounding countryside became a killing field, as Bosnian Serbs executed thousands of fleeing Muslim men.
KRIZEVICI / SAHANICI AREA
ESTIMATED KILLED: 2,000
KNOWN SURVIVORS: Three
EYEWITNESS: "There were dead bodies on top of me," said Hurem Suljic. "People were screaming and yelling ... the horror of what happened on this spot is not describable."
EVIDENCE: U.S. satellite photos show hat are believed to be mass graves.
ESTIMATED KILLED: Unknown
KNOWN SURVIVORS: Two
WHAT HAPPENED: Groups of men were taken to the grounds of a factory, lined up and shot.
EYEWITNESS: "I never thought that I would survive," said Nedzad Alic.
ESTIMATED KILLED: More than 2,000
KNOWN SURVIVORS: None
EYEWITNESS: "I saw a group of 500 men, a lot of men, on a field," said A. Salihovic. "They were separating groups of 15-20 and escorting them into the forest. They had to leave their rucksacks and shoes behind ... I heard machine gun fire, and Serbs came out alone."
EVIDENCE: U.S. satellite photos show mass graves estimated to hold 2,000 to 2,700 bodies. Dutch soldiers confirm seeing rucksacks, shoes and dead bodies at Nova Kasaba.
ESTIMATED KILLED: Between 600 and 2,000
KNOWN SURVIVORS: Two
WHAT HAPPENED: Serbs tossed hand grenades and fired with automatic rifles into a warehouse containing Bosnian prisoners. Serb soldiers loaded bodies into trucks and took them toward Bratunac, according to witnesses.
ESTIMATED KILLED: 3,000 to 4,000
KNOWN SURVIVORS: None
Serb soldiers were stationed on roads leading from Srebrenica to Konjevic Polje. Men leaving the woods northwest of Srebrenica were killed or detained at Konjevic Polje, Nova Kasaba, Milici,
Kamenica and Kravica.
Approximately 100 corpses found.
Road from Milici to Bratunac:
"Large numbers" of corpses seen in 20 different spots along the route.
Road from Bratunac to Nova Kasaba:
Numerous corpses on and beside the road, including an estimated 500 in one area and 700 in another.
/Sources: Dutch peacekeepers, human rights officials,
'PANIC GRIPPED ME': ESCAPEE TELLS OF SURVIVING MASSACRE
A. Salihovic was a town official in Srebrenica. He has told human rights workers that after fleeing the town, armed with a rifle with thousands of other refugees, he witnessed mass executions and spent a month evading capture. Asking that his full name not be published, he gave this account to correspondent Alexandra Stiglmayer last week in Tuzla.
AMBUSH ON MOUNT KAMENICA
There was fire all around us. I had a rifle and shot into
the direction of the bullets. ... Then the fire stopped. We
waited, then got up. The guy lying half on top of me was
seriously wounded. ... According to my count, there were
80 dead and 46 wounded.
We left the dead behind, took the wounded, got organized
and started climbing down. ... Suddenly somebody opened fire
in my back, and I realized that some of the men I didn't know
were Chetniks [Bosnian Serbs] who had infiltrated us. ... I
threw myself on the ground and played dead.
There was screaming and moaning all around me. Panic
gripped me and I was scared stiff.
NEGOTIATING WITH THE BOSNIAN SERBS
When I came close to the road, I ran into a group that had just tried to cross it. Four men were wounded, they just looked horrible, were bathed in blood. They said the area was mined and the Chetniks were on the road in two armored personnel carriers. So, we were some 3,000 people gathered there and didn't know what to do. After half an hour [negotiators for the group] said there was an agreement [for them to be moved to safety].
UNPROFOR [U.N. forces] would arrive at 8 a.m. to escort us and we should collect our weapons in one site. People were hilarious, some happily threw their guns onto one stack, and most were really relieved. I wasn't and kept telling them that this could be a set-up, but nobody would listen to me ...
Suddenly, the Chetniks in the woods around us shouted, "You want UNPROFOR? Here you have it," and they opened fire onto us.
Panic broke out, real panic, everybody was screaming and people were killing themselves. One young man activated a hand grenade and shot himself with his pistol at the same time. The bomb killed and wounded all the people around him.
I knew that I had to get away as quickly as possible. ...We ran into the woods. ... Later, we found some high grass where we could hide and sleep. I hadn't slept in more than 50 hours and was completely exhausted.
CIRCLING TO SAFETY
I left the guys to check out the terrain. ... In the evening, when I went back to get my guys, I couldn't find them. ... I decided to give it a try alone. It was dark. I crossed the road
and thought I had managed the worst part, the two roads, and that Tuzla was close.
It started raining and didn't stop anymore, but I felt somewhat better than before. Toward the morning, I met another three men from Srebrenica. They told me that I was back where I had started. I had gone in a circle and crossed back over the same road! That really got me.
I had lost my rucksack. We were hungry and ate some slugs, we made a fire and roasted them. It was morning and very foggy so that we hoped that the smoke would not be seen.
In the area of Lolici, right at the entrance to Kravice, I saw scores of our people being chased into big warehouses by Chetniks. Before the war, it was a place where farmers sold their goods. The people had to walk in pairs in long columns. Other columns were being escorted to Kravice. Altogether, there were hundreds of men. I watched them, but I heard Chetnik patrols in the woods around me and had to go. ...
We arrived in Cerska in the early morning. There was a dirt road leading toward Cerska, and at the outskirts there was a school. ... There I saw 150 executed men. ... We went down along the road and then we crossed it, below a crossing. Right at the crossing, there was a mass grave. There was a heap of freshly-turned earth, 3 to 4 meters long and some 2 meters wide, bulldozer traces, and empty ammunition boxes. What else would you conclude? ...
In a second field [in Nova Kasaba] I saw more than 500 men. The Chetniks were separating groups of 15 to 20 men and escorting them to the river Jadar. ... The men had to leave their rucksacks, jackets and other things behind. They went, there was gunfire, then the Chetniks came back alone.
TWO WEEKS ON MOUNT URDC
Hunger was a problem. First, we ate slugs and fruit; there were still some fruit trees from the time before the war. We also ate edible leaves. ... In the cellars of some houses we found dishes and could cook mushroom soups. ... But after awhile, there were no slugs, no fruit and no mushrooms left.
I came to a U.N. camp, but still didn't know where I was. There was a house and I heard voices. I moved closer, hoping that they would use names so that I would know where I was.
Later, I found a bus parked on the road. It had Kladanj written on it, but first I thought it was an old bus. However it wasn't, and also had Kladanj registration. Then I knew that
I was in free territory!
I never thought that the Chetniks would kill so many of us. I believed they would kill the commanders and officers, but not the ordinary people. ...
Before, I never would have believed that I could do something like this. And now I think that I would never be able to do it
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