EDITOR'S NOTE _ Bosnian Muslims thought they were safe in Srebrenica, one of six safe
Jul. 16, 1995
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Bosnian Muslims thought they were safe in Srebrenica, one of six ``safe areas'' created by the United Nations in 1993. But last Tuesday, the Bosnian Serbs marched in, showing that U.N. protection counted for little. Here is a reconstruction of what happened in Srebrenica last week.
Six Days That Shook Srebrenica _ Then The World
By SNJEZANA VUKIC
Associated Press Writer
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Five months pregnant, Zuhra Mujic tenderly held her hand on her stomach, remembering the huge artillery barrage that hit the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica a week ago Sunday and shattered her life for the second time.
A year ago, Bosnian Serbs captured her village, Zeleni Jadar, and she fled to Srebrenica, 7 1/2 miles away, because it was a U.N. ``safe area.'' Now, shells were falling in Srebrenica.
``We ran into a shelter and stayed there for almost two days,'' Mujic, 21, recalled as she washed clothes at the U.N. airfield outside the Bosnian government stronghold of Tuzla, where she fled last week after the Serbs deported nearly 20,000 Muslims out of Srebrenica.
Accounts from many refugees paint a picture consistent with the Serb goal in this war: to target civilians and create a purely Serb state free of the Muslim domination the rebels claim to fear.
Their tales, which cannot be independently verified because the Serbs have allowed no outsiders into Srebrenica, suggest that thousands of men and young women were hauled off to unknown destinations, often at gunpoint.
Tensions began rising in Srebrenica in late June, with sporadic commando raids and killings of civilians reported by both rebel Serbs and government forces. But the Serb assault began in earnest early July 6.
Armed with tanks and heavy weapons, the Serbs started shelling the 16-square-mile enclave. They faced 400 lightly armed Dutch U.N. peacekeepers and an unknown number of Bosnian soldiers, also lightly armed, trying to defend around 42,000 Muslims, many of them refugees like Mujic.
Over the next three days, rebel Serbs pushed slowly north toward the enclave. They attacked two U.N. observation posts, seized 30 Dutch peacekeepers, and started firing on Srebrenica town _ the shelling that drove Mujic and her family into an underground shelter.
On Monday, July 10, the United Nations warned the Serbs to cease their attacks. The Serbs responded with their customary defiance: All peacekeepers and residents must leave Srebrenica in 48 hours starting at 6 a.m. Tuesday.
On Monday night, Zumra Jahic, 42, tried to reach her family's garden in the village of Bljecevo, a few miles from the Serb lines, to pick some vegetables. A Serb attack stopped her.
``They were firing from all weapons,'' Jahic recalled, looking anxiously at her two-month-old daughter, Hajra, wrapped in a rag and so emaciated that her legs were as thin as an adult's finger.
By Tuesday morning, the Serb ultimatum had filtered through Srebrenica, even to Mujic's underground shelter.
``We grabbed some food and ran out, barefoot,'' Mujic said. ``Everybody was leaving. So did we. We didn't want to be left alone in the town.''
As she fled her home on Vidikovac Street, she saw Serb soldiers walking on Ucina Basca Street, less than 100 yards away.
``They were approaching us, with all their weapons, and we began running. Children were screaming. We all headed to the U.N. base, convincing each other that we would be safe there,'' Jahic said.
When too exhausted to run, they walked. Then they ran again. It took an hour and 20 minutes to reach the main U.N. base at Potocari, nearly 2 miles north of Srebrenica.
``There was a river of people moving with us,'' she said. ``Children were losing their mothers. Mothers were calling their names. People were throwing things away to run more easily. It was frightening chaos.''
The U.N. called in NATO jets to attack Serb tanks, but it was too late. The Serbs overran the ``safe area,'' forcing the Dutch to flee to Potocari too.
About 4 p.m. Tuesday, villagers in Bljecevo heard that Srebrenica was falling.
``People started to howl in despair,'' Zumra Jahic recalled. ``Children screamed that they wanted to stay at home. Everyone cried. But off we went.''
They walked 1.2 miles to reach Potocari, first through woods. ``Branches were scratching our faces. My feet started bleeding as I was dashing over the rocks,'' Jahic said.
On the open road to Potocari, the Serbs fired from the hills.
``We fell to the ground, covering our children with our bodies, our heads with our hands,'' she said.
Ramo Huremovic, a gentle 10-year-old boy with a terrified look in his blue eyes, was one of many children separated from their families while fleeing to Potocari.
``Mum just said: `Run!' And I ran, but got lost among the people,'' he said, bursting into tears. His arms and legs are covered with bruises.
At Potocari, Mujic and her family took shelter in a car battery factory. Jahic arrived so late that she had to camp on a blanket outside the factory, with no food or breast milk for her crying, hungry daughter.
Overnight, there was sporadic firing.
The refugees awoke Wednesday to be handed rationed food and water by the Dutch under a blazing sun. Then, Bosnian Serb commander Gen. Ratko Mladic and his victorious forces rolled into Potocari with a fleet of buses and trucks.
The Dutch could do little _ a Serb tank was at their gate and mortars and rocket launchers were aimed at the refugees. The Serbs took more Dutch peacekeepers prisoner, bringing the total to 48.
Zumra Jahic remembers that at about 11 a.m., a U.N. translator said the Serbs had arrived to take the peacekeepers' weapons.
``Do not be afraid,'' she quoted the translator as saying. ``If you do not have any weapons, you do not have to be afraid.''
``People screamed, throwing away photographs of their men for the Serbs not to recognize them somewhere,'' Jahic said. ``People were just wandering around in complete panic, but you have nowhere to run any more. They're all around you.''
Then, she said, she recognized from television the notorious Serb paramilitary commander, Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan, who approached them, smiling.
``Hey, Balije,'' Jahic recollected Arkan shouting, using a pejorative term for Muslims.
``Where is your army, huh? We'll kill you all now, you know that,'' she quoted Arkan as saying. ``You wanted sovereign Bosnia? Now you'll pay for it with your lives.''
Instantly, Jahic said, there was complete silence.
Another woman, Jahra, 48, said Mladic approached their group in another factory.
``He said we didn't have to worry, that we would all go out, men and women,'' she said. ``He was throwing cigarettes for us, Bosnian Serb cameras were shooting. He was happy.''
A truck of Serb soldiers arrived, and approached the Dutch soldiers. They ``were just crying. No one had their weapons left,'' she said.
The Serbs gathered refugees in front of the base and pushed them into buses and trucks.
Jahic said she saw the mother of 10-year-old Ramo looking for him at Potocari. But when she ran into the boy, she couldn't find her. So Jahic took Ramo along. She said her husband and two sons, aged 19 and 20, probably fled to the woods with Bosnian soldiers.
The convoy Jahic was on went through Bratunac, Konjevic Polje, Kravica, to the last Serb line. Then, everyone walked 2 1/2 hours through no man's land to Kladanj, the Bosnian army frontline.
``The Serbs were standing aside, just looking at us,'' Jahic said. ``You just kept your head down and walked fast, because if you looked at them, they might separate you.''
Now, she shares a tent with seven others at the Tuzla airfield. Her baby has been treated for malnutrition.
Mujic had to spend a second night in Potocari.
She, her brother and mother slept in shifts, awakened twice by women screaming in the factory when the Serbs dragged their men away.
``They took some 80 men. We didn't see any of them coming back,'' she said.
Hava Hasankovic, 46, said she saw at least seven male bodies lying in a nearby creek.
``I heard shots from a pistol the night before,'' she said.
On Thursday morning, Hasankovic said she saw the Serbs setting fire to fields and houses nearby. Then, she and others were ordered on to buses by the Serbs.
``When they saw old men, they said: `You, old man, you should come with us.''' she said. ``Their wives were too afraid to say anything.''
``They stopped us in Bratunac, telling us to give them money or they would kill us all,'' Mujic said. ``And they got it.''
In Kravica, she saw at least 20 Muslim men in civilian clothes walking along the road in front of armed Serbs.
``Some had their hands behind their heads, some were forced to raise three fingers,'' a traditional Serb sign, she said. ``Some five or six bodies of those already killed were lying there. Blood all around them.''
She didn't recognize anyone because the bus was going so fast. But, she whispered, ``What terrifies me the most is that one of them may well be my man.''