Related topics

Aid Officials Face Moral Dilemma Over Evacuating Non-Serbs With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

April 5, 1994

PRIJEDOR, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ The Serb campaign against minority Muslims and Croats in northern Bosnia has forced aid workers to confront a moral dilemma: Should they help out with ″ethnic cleansing?″

Should they evacuate minorities and help the Serbs accomplish their goals? The Serbs want to make regions ethnically pure, and take over Muslim and Croat homes for Serb refugees. Or should they stand firm and protest the Serb policies, knowing that innocent civilians could still be raped, beaten or killed while aid workers are safe on moral high ground?

The answer appears clearer after 20 Muslims and Croats were murdered last week in this Serb-held town.

″If we remain passive, we could be accused of standing by and letting those people die,″ said Lisa Jones of the international Red Cross in the nearby Serb stronghold of Banja Luka. ″We have the moral obligation to save lives. Carrying out a massive evacuation is our last resort.″

″Such a decision is never made lightly,″ said Robin Thompson of the Red Cross office in Zagreb.

The Red Cross began making plans to evacuate thousands of non-Serbs from Prijedor after last week’s murders. But the effort was put on hold after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic refused to guarantee the convoys’ safety.

The dilemma of ethnic cleansing has come up repeatedly during Bosnia’s two- year war.

In July 1992, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees helped 9,000 people move from Serb-held Bosanski Novi in northern Bosnia.

At the time, Sadako Ogata, the commissioner, harshly criticized the Serbs.

″For the first time in its history, UNHCR was caught in a scandalous blackmail, which left us with no choice but to accept expulsion in order to prevent more killing and terrorizing,″ she said.

In Banja Luka, the main Serb-held city in northern Bosnia, thousands of Muslims and Croats have left on their own. But the UNHCR and the Red Cross have helped others in acute danger.

For residents in nearby Prijedor, the killings provide yet more proof of the dreadful divisions forged by Europe’s fiercest war in 50 years.

Djuka Filipovic, a Serb refugee living in a Muslim family’s house, said she cleaned away the blood after her landlords - a Muslim couple and their sister- in-law - were killed in the apartment downstairs.

″The noise lasted for about 40 minutes. I was so scared. Then everything got quiet,″ she said. ″Police came in the morning and after they took the corpses away, I began cleaning the floor.

″I felt sick, but I was so shocked I only felt that I have to clean it up. There was so much blood.″

Filipovic moved into the Rizvic family’s house after fleeing Muslim-held Zavidovici, but she insisted that she was not part of any terror campaign.

″I never told them they should leave. I didn’t want them to think I wanted to move into all of their house,″ she said.

Filipovic’s brother, Gordan, thought differently.

Asked if his murdered landlords should have given in to pressure and left, Gordan replied: ″I once told them they should do what I had done.″

He said he bought his way out of Zavidovici with 300 packs of cigarettes after being forced to dig trenches for six months for government forces.

Filipovic quoted her late neighbor, Faruk Rizvic, as saying: ″I can be moved out only as dead.″

″And that’s what happened,″ she said.

Next door, Rizvic’s sister, Fikreta Dizdic, was pale and trembling. Her phone rang constantly Monday with anonymous threats, an indication that despite Serb pledges of greater security for minorities the terror was not over.

Many of Prijedor’s Serbs are refugees from other areas of Bosnia, and housing is short. Serb refugees are given permits to move into deserted homes.

Jones, the Red Cross official, said about 9,000 non-Serbs were left in Prijedor, all of them potential evacuees. Before the war, the region was home to about 112,000 people, including 50,000 Slavic Muslims and 7,000 Croats.

Prijedor’s police chief, Bogdan Delic, said last week’s violence may have been retaliation for the deaths of six Serb police officers in nearby Bihac, whose bodies were reportedly mutilated.

Delic said that so far, two people - a Muslim and a Serb - were reported detained for questioning and later released.

Update hourly