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Civilian Exchange Fails, Prisoners Returned to Jail With PM-Yugoslavia

September 10, 1992

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ More than 900 Muslim and Serb civilians were returned to detention camps and jails after a planned prisoner swap collapsed in no-man’s land, officials said today.

Darko Ivic, a Bosnian liaison officer to the United Nations, said the civilians from both sides were returned to jails and detention camps.

″Everybody is safe,″ he said, ″the only problem is that they’re all back in jail.″ He said he hoped the exchange could take place soon.

Jim Hull, head of the U.N. civil police contingent in Sarajevo, said Wednesday that 454 Bosnians had been left in Serb hands and 463 Serbians remained in Bosnian custody after the deal collapsed in Kobiljaca, 15 miles northwest of Sarajevo.

Ivic said Serb prisoners were sent back to a jail in Bosnian government- held Tarcin. Muslim prisoners were returned to Kula jail and other detention camps in Serb-held territory.

The group of men, women and children apparently were victims of ″ethnic cleansing,″ a tactic used by all sides to create ethnically pure areas.

Hull last saw the prisoners on Wednesday in Kobiljaca, a buffer zone bewteen Serb and government.

A 10-hour attempt Tuesday to orchestrate the swap was chaotic and Hull said it underscored the problems faced by the United Nations in ex-Yugoslavia.

Problems began when both sides reported they would exchange 917 people, almost double the 470 originally planned.

Hull said the attempted exchange included: Serb and Croat forces detaining U.N. officials at checkpoints for hours; Serb militiamen consuming large quantities of beer and plum brandy; Bosnian and Croat officials, erstwhile allies, arguing and almost fighting; Serb forces attempting to arrest Bosnian government negotiators traveling in a U.N. armored vehicle; and one of the prisoner buses breaking down.

The Serbs’ prisoners arrived first in Kobiljaca, many of them elderly Muslims or children. Hull said he expected two busloads from Kula prison. Instead, he got 11 busloads.

Passengers interviewed by reporters appeared fearful.

Members of one group said they were from Azici, a suburb of Sarajevo. Serb troops had forced them from their homes four days earlier and put them in a gymnasium, they said, before transporting them to Kobiljaca.

Soon, 13 cars carrying Serbs from the central Bosnian city of Travnik arrived in Kobiljaca. Travnik is controlled by Muslim and Croat forces.

Some of the Serbs told reporters they were fleeing Croat persecution in Travnik and were heading for Pale, the Bosnian Serbs’ military headquarters.

Finally, Hull said, U.N. representatives were forced to leave the detainees from each side with their captors because it was dusk, when fighting usually starts.

Offers to escort the people back to their respective detention sites were rejected, Hull said.

Each side in Bosnia’s war accuses the other of holding thousands of people in detention centers. Both sides say they want to exchange those detainees but - as Tuesday seemed to indicate - neither side appears able to find a way.

″We feel bad about having to leave the people behind,″ said Hull. ″It gives you an idea of what’s going on here.″

The problems with the exchange reveal much about the trouble faced by the United Nations in what used to be Yugoslavia.

As Hull told reporters accompanying him in Kobiljaca: ″This situation is unworkable. How can you solve the problem of concentration camps if you can’t work this one out?″

The prisoner swap was one of about 10 organized so far by the U.N. police in Sarajevo. Hull said none had gone smoothly. Mortars landed during the first attempt.

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