SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ They made Fadil Dedic kneel, stripped to the waist, and shoved a pistol in his mouth. They threatened Enver Dzelilovic's mother with a knife and kicked Jozefina Gliha when she tried to prevent her daughter from being abducted by Serb forces.

Muslim and Croat residents of a Serb-controlled section of Sarajevo told harrowing tales Thursday of four months of occupation by Serb militias and a sudden sweep to ''cleanse'' the area of non-Serbians.

Relatively safe, seated in a central Sarajevo school with their few belongings, each also had stories to tell of Serb neighbors who helped them - and in some cases may have saved their lives.

The sudden move to clear Grbavica, a neighborhood across the Miljacka River from the center of Sarajevo, could be connected to nascent moves to find a negotiated settlement to the siege of Sarajevo and six months of warfare throughout Bosnia.

By evicting all non-Serbs from the area, Serb Bosnian forces could more easily lay claim to keeping it as a bargaining chip or a toehold in Sarajevo, a multi-ethnic city of 400,000 residents.

Government officials said the recent spate of ''ethnic cleansing'' created 550 refugees.

The refugees said they had 15 minutes to pack up and leave their apartments. They were harassed, but agreed there was little violence.

However, they said able-bodied men of fighting age were not allowed to leave. No one knows what happened to them, but Bosnian government soldiers stationed across the Miljacka River said they heard screams until early Thursday morning.

The number of detained men was not known but appeared to be scores. One of the refugees, Enver Dzelilovic, said 56 people came out with his group but about 30 men were left behind.

Dzelilovic, a 46-year-old chemical engineer, said one Bosnian Serb soldier told him: ''You have to leave today because the order is to have a clean Grbavica tomorrow.''

He said four young men came to his door at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, two dressed in uniforms of the Bosnian Serb army and two in the black of the paramilitary forces of Zeljko Raznjatovic.

Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, is chief of a nationalist Serb militia blamed for many ''ethnic cleansing'' sweeps through Bosnia. He is wanted by Interpol for armed robbery in Sweden and for escaping from prison there.

''They said all Muslims had to leave their apartments in 15 minutes,'' Dzelilovic said. ''My mother asked, 'Do we really have to?' and one of Arkan's men went straight at her with a knife.''

Dzelilovic stopped him by giving up the keys to his apartment. He said there was time only to pack some clothing and leave.

Along the way to the bridge that leads to government-held territory, armed men took jewelry, money and coats.

Dzelilovic said he asked to keep his dingy cream-and-orange striped jacket, and one of Arkan's men said, ''Throw him into the Miljacka (River), he doesn't deserve to live anyway.''

Dzelilovic said he and his mother then were allowed to pass without further harassment.

Jozefina Gliha, a Croat, said she fought with a large, bearded man dressed in black who kicked her when she tried to protect her 24-year-old daughter from being abducted. A neighbor intervened to save her.

Fadil Dedic's escape was so traumatic that the 40-year-old sawmill worker just sat silently while his 16-year-old son Velija tried to explain.

The Muslim family had to move in May from Pale, where the Bosnian Serbs have their headquarters, to another house they owned further east in Serb territory. Relations with their Serb neighbors were good, Velija said.

But then they heard new forces were coming from Serbia.

''The whole village agreed we should leave while we still had our heads on our shoulders,'' he said. ''They were afraid for themselves, but they were more afraid for us.''

So the family headed back to Pale, where Serb policemen that Dedic knew received permission to take them to Grbavica. They said that was the only chance to save them.

The family joined a group walking across the bridge, but the elder Dedic was stopped and forced to strip to the waist and kneel, his son said.

An armed man hit him several times and shot a hole in his identity card, declaring, ''This is what I'm going to do to you.'' He then shoved the gun in the man's mouth, Velija said.

But the Serbian police from Pale demanded Dedic be allowed to go. They were set free.

Dzelilovic and Gliha also praised their Serb neighbors. ''They were not allowed to talk to us,'' Gliha said. ''But they gave us advice - they said, 'Don't go out, if something happens to you, I can't help you.' But they were giving us food, helping us silently.''

Covering his eyes to hide his tears, Dzelilovic said the end of the ordeal meant the start of a new life.

''My mother and I see Sept. 30 as a birthday - we were born again,'' he said.