Bosnian Tells Of Surviving Massacre in Which 200 Reportedly Killed
ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ A Bosnian Muslim said Tuesday he knows of only one other man who survived a Serb massacre of about 200 people last month.
″I was afraid of a bullet in my head, and especially of my throat being cut,″ said Semir, 24, who said he and the other man saved themselves by tumbling into a ravine.
Semir, who asked the AP not to photograph him or use his family name on the chance that one of his brothers might also have survived the killings, said they occurred Aug. 21.
The Serbs who brought the men to the isolated canyon, he said, had removed them from one of the notorious detention camps that the Serbs began closing in August, after photographs of the famished inmates created worldwide outrage.
In Sarajevo, the head of Bosnia’s Investigative Commission for War Crimes said it had ″all the details″ about the alleged massacre, including the names of the victims and those who killed them.
″After the war, we intend to try the perpetrators for war crimes,″ said the commission chief, Mirsad Tokaca.
The Bush administration said Tuesday it also was investigating reports of the massacre. The U.S. government has accused the Serbian militia, backed by Belgrade, of forcing Muslims from their homes in an ″ethnic cleansing″ operation.
Reports of massacres, perpetrated by all warring parties, have been frequent since Yugoslavia began to break up last year and armed militias unleashed pent-up ethnic hatreds.
Often the stories cannot be independently verified.
Other times, reporters come across the aftermath, as The Associated Press did Sept. 11 near Rogatica in Bosnia-Herzegovina. A Muslim assault on a column of Serb refugees had left charred skeletons and decomposing corpses along the road. Witnesses said at least 50 Serbs were killed, people who had been fleeing the Muslim-held town of Gorazde.
The massacres have shocked the international community. A U.N. Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva decided in August to assemble evidence for possible prosecution for war crimes.
Serbs have been most often cited as perpetrators of massacres, and that was the case in the story Semir related Tuesday in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital.
He said Serbs caught him in mid-July near Prijedor, northern Bosnia, and held him in a detention camp at the nearby Keraterm ceramics factory.
He was later moved to a camp at Trnopolje, a village between Prijedor and Banja Luka. On Aug. 21, five buses came to Trnopolje. Women and children were put in one bus, men and teen-age boys in the others.
″We were told not to be afraid because they would take us for exchange near Travnik,″ Semir said. Travnik was the closest large town held by Muslims and Croats, about 60 miles southeast.
After hours of driving, the convoy reached the Ugar River canyon, and all the men and boys were packed into two buses.
As the rest of the convoy with about 50 women and children moved on, 10 Serb military policemen went to work on those who remained.
″They called one by one for people to get out of the bus, took them behind the bus, and the only thing we heard was a shot,″ Semir said.
The bus was almost emptied, he said. He remained with his two older brothers and two nephews. He decided to try to escape but his brothers wouldn’t go with him.
After a brother and a 16-year-old nephew were taken out and shot, Semir said, he jumped out of the bus, pushed a Serb policeman and leaped into a ravine.
″Later I realized I was very lucky, because a tree stopped me only about 30 meters (yards) from the top of the canyon, otherwise I’d be dead.″
He hung from the tree as if dead, he said, after one of the policemen shot at him. Occasionally, he said, he sneaked a glimpse of the scene above.
″Two of them would take a dead body, hold it by the legs and arms, and throw it down into the canyon,″ Semir said. ″One of the bodies fell about 5 meters from me, so that the man’s brain’s were all over my chest.″
″When I looked up, there were arms, legs, mixed-up bodies.″
Semir said he recognized several of the killers because they were from his home, Corakovo. He said he recognized two brothers who rounded up Muslims in the village.
After nightfall, Semir said, he and another man, who was wounded in the leg and shoulder, reached the bottom of the canyon and then separated.
Semir said he saw the other man eight days later after slipping through Serb-held territory to reach Jajce, a Muslim-held town 20 miles west of the canyon.