Muslims Hanging from Trees After the Fall of Srebrenica
By STEPHEN KINZER
Published: July 14, 1995.
New York Times
TUZLA, Bosnia and Herzegovina, July 13— Thousands of stunned Muslim refugees streamed into this town in northern Bosnia today, telling of bodies left hanging from trees and littering the street after the Bosnian Serb conquest of the “safe area” of Srebrenica.
Busloads of refugees, many with just the clothes on their backs, continued to arrive late into the night. They camped under a full moon on mosquito-infested fields near the Tuzla airport, trying to come to grips with their sudden losses.
Dozens of refugees interviewed here told similar stories of atrocities. Many said they had hidden fearfully in their homes on Tuesday night, after Bosnian Serbs had entered Srebrenica late Tuesday afternoon with virtually no resistance.
On Wednesday morning, these witnesses said, when Bosnian Serb soldiers routed them out to waiting buses for shipment to Government-held territory, they saw “many men hanging” — words repeatedly used — and many more men lying dead in the streets. There was no independent verification of their accounts.
The refugees said that they had heard some shots during the night but that many of the men had apparently been stabbed to death.
“I saw men who seemed to have gone crazy, killing people with knives,” said Vahida Nukic. “We didn’t know what was happening,” she added.
Some of the refugees also described rapes and abductions of women, notorious weapons of degradation in past episodes of “ethnic cleansing” by the Serbs.
United Nations troops in and around Tuzla were plainly overwhelmed by the sudden flood of refugees, who were living in a United Nations-declared “safe area” until Serbian troops stormed past a contingent of peacekeepers and fell upon them this week.
Relief workers, local volunteers and United Nations soldiers distributed blankets and rubber mattresses to a few lucky refugees and gave scraps of food to some children, but most refugees knew no comfort and ate nothing today.
The vast crowd sat almost completely motionless and silent, as if in a collective state of shock. The only sounds heard were plaintive wails of babies and small children, broken occasionally by amplified announcements from local fire engines that passed by with rations of water.
United Nations officials said more than 8,000 refugees had arrived in Tuzla by tonight, after they were dropped at the front lines by the Serbs and transported to Tuzla by the Bosnian Government.
Relief workers said the refugees were all women and children, and no men were seen among those camped at the airport tonight. Military-age men captured in the Srebrenica enclave were separated by the Serbs and sent to Bratunac, where Bosnian Serb officers said they would be questioned for possible war crimes [note: the only war criminals in and around Srebrenica were Serbian fascists who started massacring Bosniak people in April of 1992, three years before the 1995 Srebrenica genocide].
“I saw neighbors dead, and it made me crazy,” said Haka Nukic, 67, who was born in Srebrenica and has lived there all her life and is the mother of Vahida Nukic. “The first night the Serbs were in the town, we heard screaming in the streets until morning. They took women away and did bad things to them, and killed men the way you slaughter cattle.”
Mrs. Nukic said that her 16-year-old grandson had been captured, and that she fears he may have been killed.
“At first the Serbs said we shouldn’t worry, that they wanted peace, that nothing would happen to us,” she said. “But later, when it got dark, they turned into wild animals. I don’t see how we will ever be able to go back there.”
The Serbian decision to remove all of Srebrenica’s more than 40,000 Muslims, most of whom had moved there after being forced from their homes in previous Serb campaigns, was the latest spasm of the “ethnic cleansing” that has been a tactic of Serbian forces since the Bosnian war began three years ago.
It is an article of faith among Bosnian Serbs that their self-proclaimed state, which no other nation recognizes, cannot survive while pockets of Muslims remain.
Bosnian Serbs are seeking to consolidate their control over eastern Bosnia by overrunning the Muslim “safe areas” established by the United Nations in 1993. After their success in Srebrenica, they have begun to turn their firepower on nearby Zepa.
The commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, Gen. Ratko Mladic, asserted in an interview published today that the enclaves had never been truly demilitarized, and that in fact they had been used as bases from which Muslims had launched “terrorist actions.” In recent weeks there have been several reported incidents in which Muslim fighters evidently slipped out of the enclaves to raid Serb targets. [note: Serbs conveniently avoided to mention they also raided and attacked Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) villages around Srebrenica; Serbs blocked humanitarian aid from entering Srebrenica so they could starve Bosniak people to death.]
Asked if such assaults had been carried out by Muslim forces inside Srebrenica in recent weeks, a United Nations spokesman in Zagreb, Philip W. Arnold, replied: “It’s quite clear that there have been attacks by both sides that contradict their commitment to maintain this as a demilitarized area.”
Refugees interviewed today gave remarkably similar accounts of what they saw in Srebrenica. Their stories were graphic and horrific.
“I saw many bodies lying on the street,” said Beb Usmanovic, 25, as she cradled her 4-year-old son. “The men have all disappeared, and we think they may be dead. We are so scared, so sad, that we don’t know what to do.”
Muska Hasj, 24, said she saw women surrender themselves to rampaging Serbs in efforts to protect their families.
“The Serbs were running through the streets with knives,” she said. “They took some women away, and others hid inside their homes hoping not to be taken. A few went without protesting. I think they had lost their minds.”
“I have no idea where we will go now or what we will do. We have been thrown out into the wild like forest creatures, but we are normal European people. I don’t understand how this could happen.”
U.N. Condemns Serbian Actions
UNITED NATIONS, July 13 (By The New York Times) — The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, whose organization has led the relief effort in Bosnia, today used some of her toughest language yet in accusing the Bosnian Serbs of “ethnically cleansing” Srebrenica of its Muslim civilian population.
“It is inconceivable to me that the Bosnian Serbs can inflict such hardship on the people of Srebrenica — people who have already endured years of war and suffering,” Mrs. Ogata said. “This is one of the most blatant examples of ethnically motivated forced displacement we have seen yet in this war.”
Mrs. Ogata’s statement, issued here and in Geneva, referred to the “ruthless efficiency” with which the Bosnian Serbs were busing women, children and elderly people from Potocari, the United Nations base where thousands of refugees had fled, and detaining men and boys. Her criticism was echoed today by other humanitarian and human rights organizations.