‘Ethnic Cleansing’ Continues in Serb-controlled Bosnia
A Bosniak family was bomb-attacked by Serb men in Banja Luka… A Croat woman was grabbed from the streets in broad daylight and raped by a gang of Serb men… an elderly Croat woman was attacked in the city center by an assailant who cut off her ears and poked out her eyes… Adina, a 19-year-old Bosniak woman was raped on March 8 by four Serb men in military uniforms…
Gainesville Sun, p.8A
26 March 1994.
By John Pomfret
GASNICI, Croatia — Ismet Hrustanovic had an inkling something was going on in his back yard. The engineer’s puppy started yelping. Twigs and leaves crunched under the heavy feet of men in boots.
Next, a fusillate exploded into his two-story house. One bullet passed through his nose, into his eye socket and out near his ear. Another bored into his wife’s ankle. Several more punched holes in the wall near his 10-year-old son. A final blast killed the puppy.
This is how Hrustanovic, a Muslim [Bosniak], spent Monday, Jan. 31 — hunkered down with a bleeding face while his wife writhed in pain in their modest house in the Serb-held Banja Luka region of Bosnia. On Wednesday, they were evacuated from the region by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Despite progress toward peace in Bosnia, “ethnic cleansing” continues throughout the 70 percent of the country controlled by Serbs. In recent weeks it has risen again in the northwestern Bosnian region of Banja Luka, the site of some of the fiercest cleansing by Serb forces when Bosnia’s war began in 1992. According to U.N. estimates, there are about 1 million people in the Banja Luka region, including 50,000 Bosniaks and about 27,000 Croats. When the war began, as many as 250,000 Muslims lived in the region.
Interviews in this refugee camp in eastern Croatia with U.N. officials and with Bosniak and Croat victims of Serb oppression indicate that regardless of international condemnation, the Serbs’ efforts to drive our minority groups continue unabated.
Serbian guarantees that if peace comes to Bosnia, the more than 1 million refugees forced from their homes will be assured a safe return appear increasingly hollow, officials from the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
In recent weeks, U.N. officials in the Banja Luka region, the site of the biggest Serb-held city and the only airport in the self-proclaimed Bosnian Serb republic, have reported a marked increase in rapes of Bosniak and Croatian women, unsolved and uninvestigated murders and beatings of minorities, drive-by shootings, dynamiting of houses, looting and mutilations, said Joran Bjallerstedt, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ chief protection officer for Yugoslavia and its former republics.
Last week, in Seher, a Banja Luka suburb, a Croat woman was grabbed from the streets in broad daylight and raped by a gang of Serb men, Bjallerstedt said. Several days earlier, he said, an elderly Croat woman was attacked in the city center by an assailant who cut off her ears and poked out her eyes.
“We are seeing a pattern of atrocities, and it is getting worse,” he said. “Our only solution in this case is to move people out of the area. Hundreds of people’s lives are at stake.”
Adina, a 19-year-old [Bosnian Muslim] woman with an aquiline nose and large brown eyes, said she was raped on March 8 by four Serb men in military uniforms in Vrbanja, a Muslim suburb of Banja Luka.
“I was walking back from the market. … They drove up to me in Volkswagen Golf. Two men got out, and they forced me into the car.”
“They took me to a farm, and three men held me down and one did it. The other men laughed. Then they left. I walked 10 kilometers back home. How can they treat us like this, like nothing, like worse than nothing?”
Serb authorities argue that “uncontrolled elements” are to blame for the upswing in violence, an explanation Bjallerstedt rejects.
“Knowing the high efficiency of the Serb police, they could do something if they wanted to,” he said. But they are part of the problem.”
Bjallerstedth said the United Nations’ only recourse has been to evacuate hundreds of Bosniaks and Croats from Banja Luka. Thus, the United Nations finds itself in the ambiguous position of doing the Serbs’ work for them, clearing Bosniaks and Croats from Serb-controlled turf.
The U.N. humanitarian agency, along with the Geneva-based International Committee for the Red Cross, has sent 60 people a week away by bus from Serb-held regions.