Memories Haunt Bosnian Genocide Death March Survivors
Lawrence Journal-World, P.9A
19 July 1995.
Survivors who fled the Bosnian Serb army that bore down on Srebrenica have horror stories to tell and memories that won’t fade soon.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bahrem Ektic, 16 and frail, saw dozens of Muslim [Bosniak] men lying dead or dying as he made a seven-day trek to safety from conquered Srebrenica. The memory of one victim will remain with him.
“One had nose and ears cut off, and only two fingers left on each hand. When we passed by, he whimpered. He begged us to kill him. But we could not shoot him, for fear Serbs will hear us. And nobody mustered strength to put him out of his misery with a knife.”
“So we left him there whimpering. The sound will always be in my head,” Ektic said softly Tuesday, his shoulders appearing too slight to handle the rifle he carried.
Ektic was among 15,000 Muslim men who fled Srebrenica to evade the Bosnian Serb fighters who overran the “safe area” last Thursday. Most [Bosniak men] had been conscripted for the defense of Srebrenica.
Fewer than 5,000 have made it safely to government-held Tuzla, 70 miles to the north-west, and there is growing concern about the fate of the 11,000 who remained missing.
Bosnian army spokesman Ekrem Avdic said Tuesday that a large group of Muslim men was reported to have broken through Bosnian Serb lines ringing Zepa, a U.N.-protected area that the Serbs have made their next target.
But with Zepa tottering, their fate was far from secured.
Men who have arrived in Tuzla say Serbs fired on the fleeing men and ambushed them. They suffered from thirst and a hunger that forced them to eat berries and even leaves.
But the worst suffering was caused by their fear of being discovered by the enemy. Mounting despair led several men to commit suicide, survivors say.
“About fifty meters (yards) in front of me, one older man shot himself in the mouth,” said Vejzo Mulkic, 27. “Then everybody started cursing and running, for fear we would be found.”
Young Ektic last saw his 18-year-old brother Bajro when Serbs fired on a group of Muslim men last Wednesday. The attack sent the men running in panic, and the brothers were separated.
“My brother’s gone,” Ektic said in a sad tone that harbored little hope of reunion.
He says his father was taken by the Serbs, and that he hopes to find his mother among the 23,000 refugees who arrived in Tuzla from Srebrenica last week.
Others shared his hope. Most of the newly arrived men were staying at military base near the Tuzla airport, but some ventured out to search for loved ones in the refugee camp nearby.
Looking lost in the sweltering heat, 23-year-old Osman Mulalic walked the tarmac of the tent city on a quest that showed little promise.
“I’m looking for my mother and father, Fatima and Camil, said the young man. “I’ve checked at three (collection) points, but nobody has seen them.”