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Serb ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Campaign Sponsored By Authorities With AM-Vatican-Pope-Sarajevo, Bjt

September 6, 1994

BIJELJINA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Any mention of Vojkan Djurkovic’s name leaves Muslims still remaining in this Bosnian Serb town shuddering.

Most of the estimated 4,000 Muslims who recently fled say it was his ruthless brutality that made them leave their centuries-old homes in Bijeljina.

Local Serbs say he is only a pawn of the top Bosnian Serb leadership, the real masterminds of the region’s intensified ″ethnic cleansing″ campaign.

Muslims and Croats also have been accused to varying degrees of using terror to force members of rival ethnic groups to leave their homes, but the Serb campaign is the most sweeping and systematic.

And Muslims tell horror stories of Djurkovic personally taking part in recent late-night raids and expulsions.

Yasushi Akashi, the senior U.N. official to former Yugoslavia, said Bijeljina refugees report ″torture, rape and sexual assault, arbitrary arrest and detention and arbitrary deprivation of property.″

U.N. refugee officials said Tuesday that 5,580 Muslims had been driven out of Bijeljina, in the northeast, and Banja Luka, in north-central Bosnia, since mid-July.

Djurkovic, once a member of a Serb paramilitary unit that seized Bijeljina at the start of the war in April 1992, now heads the so-called Civilian Committee for the Exchange of Population.

Hiding behind the Orwellian-sounding name is a group engaged in intimidation of the remaining Muslims through terror and plunder.

Many of the refugees who reach safety in neighboring government-held Tuzla are too terrified to describe their ordeal, fearing reprisal against relatives still in Bijeljina. But those who muster the courage to speak publicly have told nearly identical tales of raids, expulsions and robbery.

Serb sources say Djurkovic is only a shield for a well-planned campaign of ″ethnic cleansing″ designed by top Bosnian Serb officials, including leader Radovan Karadzic.

″Djurkovic is directly linked to Karadzic, and he often said he was operating under Karadzic’s authority,″ said Radomir Peric, an official of the Party of Serb Unity in neighboring Serbia. Djurkovic used to be a member of the ultranationalist party.

Djurkovic, also disliked by many local Serbs who fear his anger may turn on them when there are no Muslims left, refuses to speak to reporters. His 17- bedroom mansion in Bijeljina is beyond reach of any unwelcome visitors.

But some local Bosnian Serb fighters confirm his links with the Bosnian Serb authorities.

The Muslims are taken from their homes by military patrols to a collection point, said a Bosnian Serb military official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Muslim men are then taken by buses to Lopare, some 20 miles south of Bijeljina, where they perform forced labor before being exchanged for Serb refugees or sent across the front line, the official said.

Women, children and old people are thrown out of their homes, often with only a few minutes’ notice and may take only a few possessions.

This latest ″ethnic cleansing″ campaign is in accordance with a plan drawn up in April at the highest level of the Bosnian Serb authorities, said the Bosnian Serb official. He said implementation of the plan began in mid- July and would continue until the last Muslim leaves the region.

The ultimate goal is a ″100-percent″ Serb region, said the military official, adding that the richest Muslims are protected by powerful Serbs as long as they can pay for their safety.

Those still in Bijeljina fear leaving their homes even for shopping. Many depend on help from their Serb neighbors and refuse any contact with outsiders.

The image of the town, only touched by the war in spring 1992, changed dramatically 18 months ago when all six of its mosques were destroyed to eliminate any reminder that Muslims ever lived in Bijeljina.

As the elegant minarets disappeared from this wealthy town, the prewar Muslim majority of 26,000 out of 40,000 townspeople has been reduced to only several thousand.

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