10 Years After Bosnia Massacre, Justice Not Yet Served

Experts Doubt Top Suspects Will Be Tried Before U.N. Court Is Scheduled to Expire

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 30, 2005; A20
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/29/AR2005062902740.html

SREBRENICA, Bosnia -- Nearly 10 years after Serb
troops massacred close to 7,000 Muslim prisoners
around this mountain town, war crimes investigators
have all but wound up their probe into the killings,
but express doubts that all major suspects will be
brought to justice before a U.N. tribunal's scheduled
closure in 2008.

As forensic experts complete the examination of a
newly discovered mass grave, the two main targets of
the war crimes manhunt remain at large. Ratko Mladic,
who commanded the military forces of the breakaway
Bosnian Serb state during the 1992-95 war, and Radovan
Karadzic, its political leader, have been wanted men
for a decade.

Preparations are underway in the town of Potocari near
here for a July 11 ceremony marking the 10th
anniversary of the worst atrocity in Europe since
World War II.

Serbian President Boris Tadic has announced that he
will attend the event, to be held at a cemetery where
2,000 of the victims lie. Serbian Prime Minister
Vojislav Kostunica recently issued a statement
denouncing the "massive crime" of Srebrenica.

Serbia has surrendered close to a dozen other war
crimes suspects to the U.N. court this year, and this
month, a half-dozen people in the part of Bosnia
dominated by ethnic Serbs were arrested for alleged
involvement in the massacre.

Despite gestures like these, deep suspicions remain.
The Serbian parliament has refused to issue a
condemnation of the massacre. And some Bosnian Muslims
have called for Tadic to stay away from the
ceremonies, saying his presence would signal that
Serbia considers Srebrenica part of its territory.

So far, the U.N. court in The Hague has convicted
several Serb perpetrators, some of whom are appealing
the verdicts. Former Yugoslav president Slobodan
Milosevic is on trial, and several other suspects
await hearings. Bosnian Muslims also committed
atrocities, investigators say. Naser Oric, the Bosnian
Muslim military commander for Srebrenica, is on trial
for overseeing the killing and expulsion of Serb
civilians in the years before the massacre.

But for now, the wait for the two big names continues.
Carla del Ponte, the chief U.N. war crimes prosecutor,
has said she will not attend the anniversary event
unless Mladic and Karadzic are captured.

Fears that the tribunal might shut down before Mladic,
Karadzic and other suspects come to trial prompted the
court president, Theodor Meron, to call for an
extension. "I can already predict that trials will
have to run into 2009," he told the U.N. Security
Council in a report this month.

Today, Srebrenica looks eerily the same as a decade
ago. Gutted buildings dominate the winding main road.
A pair of new mosques replace a couple that the Serbs
razed. About 6,000 Serbs live in the town and nearby
villages, along with 4,000 Muslims. Members of the two
groups barely speak to each other, townspeople say.

The sum of information on Srebrenica points to a
methodical killing campaign. The deaths took place not
in a single orgy of destruction and bloodletting, but
in a step-by-step process of capture, transfer,
distribution and execution of thousands of detainees
in multiple places around the town over four days, and
by some accounts longer.

The killings took place two months before the end of
the war. The United Nations had declared the town a
"safe area" and stationed Dutch troops in it. But on
July 11, 1995, Serb forces backed by tanks defied the
United Nations and pushed straight into the town.

Hussein Karic, a Muslim who retired as a gamekeeper,
returned from Sarajevo two years ago. He recalls being
at his home above Srebrenica that day, when Serb
forces started to descend from the mountains. He
walked with a granddaughter to the town center, where
hundreds of Muslims gathered. "I saw Mladic just a few
feet away. He was trying to calm people. No one
believed him," Karic said.

Karic joined a column of civilians heading for
Potocari, down the valley. Occasionally, Muslim men
were pulled out of the crowd and confined to
buildings; there were screams and shots. "I kept
circulating in the crowd. I didn't let anyone's eyes
meet mine," Karic recalled.

Videos shot during the invasion showed Mladic moving
about, patting little boys on the head and telling
mothers not to wail. But at one point, he told Serbian
television: "The time has come to take revenge on the
Turks." Turks is the dismissive Serb label for Bosnian
Muslims.

On July 13, buses arrived and a two-day evacuation
began. Serb guards separated men from women and boys.
Karic sneaked onto a bus for women and boys and stayed
silent. He remembers looking into the eye of the
driver. The driver did nothing. "I don't know why. It
must be said some Serbs among the drivers knew there
were men on board, but did not throw them off. It was
God's will," Karic said.

Elsewhere, Serb guards were directing men and boys off
the road, and women toward the trucks and buses.
Sabaheta Fejzic recalls trying to shield her
16-year-old son. "The guards told me to go to the
right, where the white buses were. 'Your son goes
left.' . . . They grabbed him. I could not even cry,
but my son was crying. I will never forget the tears
falling from his eyes, his olive-colored eyes," she
said, speaking slowly and pausing to recover from a
sob.

"I knelt down and yelled out, 'Kill me.' One aimed a
rifle at me. I said, 'Kill me.' But they said, 'Why
waste the bullets?' And they threw me into a truck. It
was all a haze after. I just see his olive eyes."

Captives were transported all over eastern Bosnia, war
crimes investigators said: some just down the road to
villages near the Drina River, others as far as 45
miles north, west as far as the outskirts of Sarajevo
and several miles to the south.

Today, there are plenty of vivid traces of the
operation. In the agricultural warehouse in Kravica, a
few miles from Potocari, tribunal investigators say
that scores of men and boys were packed into a long,
white building and killed with bullets and grenades.
Investigators have a photo of bodies piled up at the
broad front doors.

Currently, the building is empty except for an
occasional wandering goat. Bullet and shrapnel holes
on the outside have been covered over. Inside, the
walls are blackened by smoke and the bullets holes
remain.

Similar remnants are visible in Pilica, 40 miles
north, in a building called the Dom Kultura. Blackened
flooring underneath a stage and pocked walls indicate
shooting and fire within. There, on July 16, Serb
soldiers killed prisoners, investigators say.

Drazen Erdemovic, a solder in the Serb army, confessed
to shooting dozens of men in Pilica. In his defense,
he said, "I had to do this. If I had refused, I would
have been killed together with the victims. When I
refused, they told me: 'If you are sorry for them,
stand up, line up with them and we will kill you too.'
" He was sentenced to five years in prison, his
sentenced mitigated by his willingness to help
investigators.

Investigators have identified numerous other places
where prisoners were assembled and killed: a soccer
field, a warehouse and a school in Bratunac, a
warehouse in Konjevic Polje, a riverside at Drinjaca,
a bend in the road at Nova Kasaba and a school and
nearby dam at Petkovci. One of the worst mass
executions occurred at a place called Branjevo farm,
where more than 1,200 men and boys were shot down in a
field.

Using aerial photographs, tribunal investigators have
uncovered numerous grave sites filled with hundreds of
bodies. Some of the bodies had been buried first at
other sites, then dug up and moved in an attempt to
hide evidence after the war ended. Many victims had
their hands manacled or were blindfolded. In addition
to the 2,000 corpses buried at the cemetery at
Potocari, about 3,500 bodies remain in storage in
Tuzla, Bosnia, where forensic experts are trying to
identify them.

Last month, Serbian human rights campaigner Natasa
Kandic, who has been investigating war crimes,
provided a videotape of a unit of Serb soldiers called
the Scorpions gunning down six Muslim men and boys at
a house near Sarajevo. A vivid documentary account of
an execution like this had never been found and shown
before. It briefly set off a wave of soul-searching
inside Serbia.

Nura Alispahic, a survivor of the killings, watched
the tape at her home in Sarajevo. She later told
reporters that her son Azmir was one of the prisoners:
"I recognized his face, his shoes. That was my Azmir.
They chased him, he turned around. I saw my enemies
killing my child."

Azmir had left the family house in Srebrenica in an
attempt to escape the town, but returned in a few
minutes. "I forgot to kiss you, mother," Alispahic
recalled him saying. That was the last time she saw
him, or knew what happened to him, until the broadcast
of the video in early June.

 2005 The Washington Post Company




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