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New Phase in Muslim Exodus From Serb-occupied Bosnia With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

October 17, 1992

PRIJEDOR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Women lined the sidewalk, crying softly, passing final messages to hundreds of Muslims packed into buses that were about to leave Serb-occupied central and northern Bosnia.

The convoy appeared to mark a new, more subtle, better-organized phase of the mass exodus of Muslims from the Serb-held region of Bosnian Krajina. This time, most appeared to be motivated more by economic hardship than overt ethnic persecution.

Prijedor is about 20 miles northeast of the northern city of Banja Luka. About 27,000 people have left the Banja Luka area in the past six months, forced out by the Serbs in a campaign of ″ethnic cleansing.″

Bosnian Croats and Muslims have been accused of isolated cases of the same tactics, but there is general agreement that the Serbs are most at fault.

In Geneva earlier this month, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said Bosnian Serbs had begun new expulsions of non-Serbs around Banja Luka.

Sylvana Foa of the refugee agency said 6,500 ethnic Croats and Muslim Slavs driven from Serb-controlled areas were reported held near the city in a field enclosed by barbed wire. She said about 20,000 non-Serbs had fled the city in recent days.

″The expulsion of people from these areas is being carried out systematically and with enormous repression,″ Foa said.

In Prijedor, the scene was more leisurely. Departing Muslims said they were being allowed to put their homes in the care of relatives and friends rather than turning them over to Serbs.

Some Muslims contended that the Serbs had simply adopted more subtle tactics in response to international condemnation.

″They’re now expelling all non-Serbs from their jobs and leaving them only one option, to get out of here and survive this winter elsewhere,″ said Muharem Abdic, one of the refugees.

Some worried that Bosnian Muslims would become a new class of long-term refugees.

″We Muslims are destined to become Europe’s Palestinians,″ said Fadil Begic, a farmer. ″We can’t return to our homes and no one wants to take us in.″

Inside the packed vehicles, little girls played with Barbie dolls while their parents stuffed outsize bags onto the luggage rack. Elderly women, heads covered with black scarves, gazed impassively at the commotion outside.

Latecomers were hurried along by Serb soldiers and Red Cross volunteers, lest the 12-bus convoy of 720 people not reach its destination before dark. The buses were bound for the government-held town of Travnik, 100 miles to the southeast.

Just outside Travnik, the Muslims would have to walk across a 2-mile-wide no-man’s land separating Serb-held territory and the government-held town.

Chaos marked past expulsions, but this transfer was agreed upon with government forces on the other side of the front, Red Cross officials said.

Merima Alagic, a 40-year-old and Muslim electrician, said of economic conditions: ″The economy here has collapsed. My paper mill has closed. How am I supposed to feed my three children without a salary?″

Serbian authorities say Serb workers have been hit equally hard by the 6- month-old war and acknowledge they are not unhappy to see the Muslims go.

″Would it be fair if we allowed Muslims to take the few remaining jobs instead of giving them to relatives of our Serbian fighters?″ asked Radislav Vukic, chief of the ruling Serbian Democratic Party in the Krajina region of northwestern Bosnia.

″We are certainly not forcing them out, but if they want to go on their own free will, why not?″ Vukic said.

A foretaste of the coming winter has worsened conditions in refugee camps.

At news this past week of an opportunity to leave, nearly 3,500 Muslims flocked to the Trnopolje camp, 12 miles east of Prijedor. Many of the camp’s inhabitants said they left their homes in nearby villages for fear of marauding Serb militiamen.

The camp, opened May 26 for Muslim refugees and other victims of ″ethnic cleansing,″ was to have been closed after the evacuation of the last 1,561 inhabitants Oct. 1, said Pero Curguz, a Red Cross official.

″We were not prepared for this influx,″ he said. ″There is no food or wood for heating.

″The temperature here at night is already below freezing. The only humane thing is to get these people out of here as soon as possible to prevent hundreds dying from cold in the coming weeks.″

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