"Srebrenica wasn't exaggerated. It was the worst place I've ever seen"
Brit thought he knew misery until he rolled into Srebrenica
The Milwaukee Journal
24 March 1993 (2 years before the genocide)
Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Larry Hollingworth spent 30 years in the British army, then did relief work in Africa’s worst famine zones. Never, he says, has he seen a place as miserable as Srebrenica.
For eight days, Hollingworth witnessed the suffering of that besieged eastern Bosnian town at close range, holding out there with a 16-member UN team until advancing Serbian forces finally agreed to let a food convoy enter for the first time in three months.
Back in Sarajevo on Tuesday, revived by his first shower in more than two weeks, Hollingworth recalled that reports of calamity in some other cut-off Bosnian towns proved exaggerated when UN relief workers at last arrived.
“But Srebrenica wasn’t exaggerated,” he said. “It was the worst place I’ve ever seen.”
He described masses of shoeless refugees in filthy clothes, without shelter, huddled around fires in the street to keep warm on nights when temperatures fell to 5 degrees.
He watched one family sitting around a fire, eating scraps picked off an uncooked horse’s hoof.
The refugees already had fled once, twice, in some cases three times as Serbians swept through neighboring towns.
Now, Hollingworth said, “they’re scared they’re going to die.”
“They were hemmed in,” he said. “The noose was being pulled tighter and tighter. Children were being killed by shells.”
Hollingworth, 53, rose to colonel in the British army, then went to Africa as a logistics specialist for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. He worked in famine-stricken Ethiopia and Sudan and came to Bosnia last July from Somalia, where he helped organize tent camps for tens of thousands of refugees.
With a white beard, spectacles and grimy blue jeans that give him the look of a disheveled Santa Claus, he has become one of the most recognizable people in the Bosnian relief operation.
He has led UN convoys to the worst-off towns, negotiating with suspicious Serbian militia commanders, enduring frustrating delays, occasionally making breakthroughs. He was abroad the first convoys to reach Gorazde and Zepa, where townspeople welcomed the food trucks with incredulous joy.
When the convoy left Srebrenica, about 2000 people swarmed onto the trucks. Only after soldiers fired warning shots was the exodus reduced to fewer than 700. Some wounded women and children meant to be on board were left behind in the chaos, he said.
Hollingworth said Srebrenica’s prewar population of 6,500 had swelled to about 20,000 as refugees fled the Serbian offensive.
There is little hospitality from permanent residents, who “feel bad about having to share what little there is with God knows how many new arrivals,” he said.
He said local authorities refuges to accommodate refugees in a rehabilitation center that could have housed 500 to 600 people, fearing it would be wrecked.