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EDITOR’S NOTE: One tool of terror in Bosnia, mass rap

January 7, 1993

EDITOR’S NOTE: One tool of terror in Bosnia, mass rape, has left its pregnant victims facing terrible personal choices: should they give birth, keep the child? And what do they tell their husbands? Here is one woman’s account.

--- By JASMINA KUZMANOVIC Associated Press Writer

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) - Aida B. has been gang-raped and she’s six months pregnant. She refers to the child as ″it″ and ″this.″ Her psychiatrist says she tries never to touch her belly.

It has been months since the dark-haired former factory worker has heard from her husband and daughter. A new life grows strong and healthy inside her but 30-year-old Aida carries the emotional scars of the baby’s conception.

Aida B. is not her real name, but then little remains of her former life.

She is one of thousands of Bosnian Muslim women who, Bosnian officials say, have been raped by Serb fighters - including neighbors and acquaintances - in attacks at home or in special ″rape camps.″

Survivors say many women were killed.

There are no certain figures on how many women have been victims, but the stories that are emerging have caused an international outcry. Bosnian Serb leaders call the claims lies, and say Serb women have been raped by Muslims.

A preliminary European Community report, obtained today in Brussels, Belgium, said some 20,000 Muslim women may have been raped by Serbs in Bosnia and that many may have died during or after the attacks.

″The indications are that at least some of the rapes are being committed in particularly sadistic ways so as to inflict maximum humiliation on the victims,″ said the confidential report prepared by an EC team sent to investigate the rape allegations.

It said that while Muslim women made up the vast majority of rape victims, there were ″disturbing reports″ that Serb and Croat women also had been attacked. The team also received reports of sexual abuse of detained men.

Diplomatic sources made a copy of the report available to The Associated Press.

Aida and her sisters deal with a very personal tragedy.

Aida tells her story with composure, but there is a constant edge to her voice. Before Bosnia exploded in war last spring, she lived quietly in the eastern Bosnia town of Gorazde with her husband and 10-year-old daughter Selma.

The siege of Gorazde - a town with a prewar population that was 60 percent Muslim and 40 percent Serb - by Serb nationalists dubbed Chetniks lasted months. But Aida says it came to a quick and terrible end.

″While Chetniks were besieging our town, I and ten other women from the neighborhood, some with children, hid in my three-room appartment on the outskirts of Gorazde,″ she said in an interview Tuesday.

On July 12, Serb irregulars broke into the apartment.

″Some wore face camouflage,″ she recalled. ″I recognized two by voice as local Serbs. Three of them took me to one room and raped me all night. After some time I grew numb except for screams I could hear from other rooms and apartments.″

Aida escaped in the morning when the soldiers fell asleep. The others were not so lucky, and what happened to them is uncertain.

But being out of Gorazde did not mean being free.

Aida noticed she was pregnant and hoped she could get an abortion. But she was trapped for several months with other Muslims in territory surrounded by Serbs.

In November, Aida joined a group that broke through Serb lines via Mt. Igman to the Croatian-held town of Kiseljak west of Sarajevo. In early December she was reunited with her sister and brother-in-law in Zagreb.

By then, her pregnancy was well into its second trimester.

Veselko Grizelj, chief obstetrician of Zagreb’s Petrova Hospital, said Aida came to the hospital in her 29th week of pregnancy ″and thus beyond any legal and ethical possibility to abort.″

The laws of predominantly Roman Catholic Croatia allow abortion upon request up to 10 weeks, and the hospital’s ethics commission decides on cases between 11 and 20 weeks.

Aida is the fourth raped and pregnant woman to seek help in Zagreb’s main maternity hospital, said Grizelj. She and his other current patient, a Croatian woman from the Bosnian town of Doboj, will probably give up their babies for adoption.

″Women who were raped don’t even want to see the children,″ he said. ″They just want to leave and forget.″

Aida ″always refers to the fetus in her womb as ‘it,’ and tries never to touch her belly,″ said Jarmila Skrinjaric, Aida’s psychiatrist.

She constantly thinks of her family.

She last heard from her husband, a fighter for the Bosnian government, in June. When the war broke out, she sent Selma to live with relatives in a village near Gorazde.

There has been no word from Selma, either, but Aida is convinced that her daughter is safe.

She struggles with her secret.

″Nobody must know of this,″ she said pointing to her belly, ″especially not my husband and my father-in-law.″

Many Muslim victims fear that male relatives will ostracize them. Some Muslim religious leaders are trying to persuade members of their male- dominated society to accept the women back as guiltless victims.

″Women here tell me ... ’If you have survived all those things, you can make it through now. I know I must be strong for my Selma.″ It is only then that she weeps.

″I don’t think that my husband could understand, because he is a man. But we had a very happy marriage, and maybe, if we manage to patch things up after the war, maybe one day I will tell him.″

On the other hand, she wonders whether it’s just best not to tell anyone:

″If I tell, if other women like me tell, the revenge will never stop, it will go on for generations. And when the war ends, Muslims and Serbs will again have to live together in my city.″

Some of the Serbs, she said, were forced by their commanders to rape and murder. Some Muslims have claimed that in addition to sowing terror among Muslims, the rapes are designed to create more ″little Serbs.″

Borislav Herak, a Bosnian Serb soldier captured by Muslim forces, told The Associated Press in Sarajevo late last year that he was ordered by his superiors to rape and kill two young Muslim women.

″They said I had to rape them - that it was important for a soldier’s morale,″ he said.

Motives matter little to Aida B., who feels violated, ashamed, fearful. And what will become of the baby?

″I know (it) is not guilty,″ she said of the child, ″but when I think of it, I remember everything and blood comes to my eyes.″

AP-DS-01-07-93 1303EST

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