Archive for September, 2009

Bosnians Forced Out of Town Describe Massacre

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by visegrad92

Newsday
4 July 1992

Bosnians Forced Out of Town Describe Massacre

Roy Gutman

MIRATOVAC, Yugoslavia Hasnija Pjeva witnessed the execution of her husband, Nenad, from the terrace of her house outside Visegrad.
It was 7:30 a.m. on June 24, and Nenad was returning from his overnight factory shift when the armed men in Serbian paramilitary uniforms spotted him. Nenad ran toward the nearby riverbank, but the irregulars shot him dead. They dragged his body onto the bridge, then threw it into the green water of the Drina.

“I didn’t bury him,” Hasnija said of her husband two days later, tears welling up in her eyes. “The river took him away.”

Abdulah Osmanagic was at his home in Visegrad, a virtual prisoner since Serb forces seized the predominantly Muslim town three months ago. They burned down the two ancient mosques and roamed the streets, firing small arms day and night. Early last week, three of his neighbors were shot in their home.

“The bodies were just left lying there in the courtyard,” Osmanagic said. He knew it was time to get out of his house.

Emina Hodzic’s husband was abducted one noon; her son that same evening. Mediha Tira’s husband was taken away by men with blackened faces.

The killings all took place last week in the Bosnian town whose Turkish-built “Bridge on the Drina” was immortalized by Yugoslavian novelist Ivo Andric. There are now two bridges, and after last week’s events, both will find their place in the literature of war atrocities.

Except for an unknown but apparently small number who escaped, all of the able-bodied Muslim men and youths of Visegrad who had not fled the occupiers were shot, according to a dozen survivors.

“Most of the executions were committed on the bridge. Their bodies were thrown into the river,” said Osmanagic, 73, the unofficial leader of the survivors. It appears that dozens were executed, perhaps hundreds. No one knows exactly.

Visegrad, with a population of about 30,000, is one of several towns where Serb forces carried out “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims in the last two weeks, according to the Bosnian government.

“There was chaos in Visegrad. Everything was burned, looted and destroyed,” said a man expelled from Visegrad. He would give neither his name nor profession. He escaped only because he was an invalid.

The survivors of the massacre are the old, the infirm, the women and the children. They are traumatized by what they witnessed, barely able to control their emotions or to speak. Two of the women had been raped, Osmanagic said. But the heartbreak was compounded by humiliation they endured at the hands of the local Serbian Red Cross.

Against their wishes, 280 people were shipped in five buses across Serbia, the principal state in the new Yugoslavia, to Macedonia, a breakaway state, a journey of about 275 miles. The Serbian Red Cross gave them food and clothes but insisted they sign papers saying they had been well-treated and wanted to go to Macedonia.

“We all wanted to go to Kosovo or Sandzak,” two mainly Muslim areas of southern Serbia, Osmanagic said, “but they directed us exclusively to Macedonia. There was no other choice.”

He carried a paper requesting that the Macedonian border authorities provide passports and admit the entire group. But Macedonia, which has more than 30,000 Bosnian refugees, has stopped accepting any more, particularly Muslims, because of substantial problems with its own Muslim minority, according to Mira Jankovska, a government spokeswoman in Skopje.

And so the Macedonians refused to allow the survivors of the Visegrad massacre to cross the border. It was 4 a.m.

Osmanagic conferred with the drivers, and they agreed that everyone should disembark and try to enter on foot, but the Macedonian police turned them away. “I ran back to the buses, and everyone followed, but when the drivers saw us, they turned the buses around and left,” he said.

For 16 hours on June 25, the survivors found themselves stranded in a no-man’s-land on an international highway without food, water, shelter or assistance, abandoned by the Red Cross, welcomed nowhere. Fifteen of them were older than 80, and there were at least as many children under the age of 2.

Albanian Muslims in this impoverished farm village in southern Serbia gave them bread, water and tomatoes. Then in the evening they arrived with tractors and taxis and took them to a small mosque. On the advice of a local doctor, who feared the spread of disease, the survivors were moved to private homes two days later.

“If the people of the village hadn’t helped us, half of us would be dead of starvation or illness,” Osmanagic said. One woman, age 92, died after the ordeal. She was buried last Sunday.

Now the survivors of Visegrad sit in this village at the end of a potholed dirt road, sleeping on the floors and couches of its simple houses, caught between the hostility of Serbia and Macedonia, unattended by any refugee organization, unable even to contact anyone outside, for there is no phone.

“We have a saying,” Osmanagic said, summing up their plight. “The sky is too high, and the ground is too hard.”


Advertisements

“Then they set the house on fire and everyone inside was screaming – I was the only one who got out”.

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 30, 2009 by visegrad92

The Guardian
20 August 1992

“Then they set the house on fire and everyone inside was screaming – I was the only one who got out”.

Maggie O’Kane’s 36-hour trek out of besieged Gorazde brought her to Visegrad with its burned houses along the Drina river valley, a small haven for eastern Bosnia’s Muslims driven from home by conquering Serbs. In the valley, the survivors told their story.

Her ears are melted away. All that is left are two waxy, twisted beige blobs like burned out candles. Her forehead is covered in a huge scab that is still healing and her nose is a maze of burst blood vessels.

She holds out her bandaged burnt arms delicately in front, like a Hindu woman at prayer. She says she is the only one who survived. Her name is Zehra Turjacanin. She is aged 31, a textile worker from Visegrad with a Muslim name. This is her story.

“It happened on June 27. Milan Lukic, a policeman in Visegrad, knocked on our door. He had six Serbs with him from Obrenovac. He said we were to go with him.

“There were eight people in my house: my mother, Djulka, my sisters, Dzehva and Aida and their children, Elma who was four, Ensar who was two, Sada who was five, and Selmir who was seven.

“After about 100 metres we went into another house on Bratislav Street. We were told to go in by the balcony. When we got to the balcony door, I saw that there was a wardrobe against the front door and all the windows had been blocked with furniture.

“There were Serbs all around the house and they were drinking. We tried to stay on the balcony but they started to throw stones at us to make us go inside, then they threw hand grenades. We went inside and it was full of people. They were crying.

“We were the last ones in and then the Serbs took a garage door from another house and put it up against the balcony, so we couldn’t get out. It was just after eight, when the curfew starts in Visegrad, and we were all in a sort of kitchen-dining room. I saw about 10 babies and some old people, but it was mostly families.

“I think there were about 70 people in that room. They weren’t screaming or banging on the doors, just crying because they knew what was going to happen.

“I said to my mother, ‘Don’t worry, they won’t kill us’. Then they set the house on fire and everyone inside was screaming, but nobody could get out. I saw the window in the garage door and I pulled myself through it.

“I was the only one who got out. I was wearing trousers, a jumper and a cardigan, and I pulled off my burning clothes. Outside the Chetniks were standing around watching the house burning. They were drunk and playing music very, very loud, so no one could hear the sound of the burning people screaming inside.

“One of the Chetniks saw me and shouted at me to stop, but they were far away from the house because of the big blaze. Then he just shrugged his shoulders and I ran and hid. I was the only one that survived.

“At one in the morning, I knocked on Ismeta Kurspahic’s door with my foot, and then I went to the Chetnik’s headquarters and I said to the commander: ‘Kill me, just kill me.’ But he said he wouldn’t and he brought Dr Vasiljevic to me and then took me to an old woman’s house.

“I stayed there for a day and then the old woman said Milan Lukic was looking for me, because I was the only one that survived and I knew. So I hid in the cemetery. Then I walked for 18 days and the territorial defence found me and they brought me here.”

Here is the mountain village of Medjedja, in a place the Muslims call the Valley of Freedom. It is a stretch of beautiful Bosnian countryside along the rivers Praca and Drina that wind their way below pine forests and through villages. A 50-mile stretch of the valley that is a last sanctuary for people like Zehra Turjacanin.

Thousands of Muslims have fled here, driven out from towns like Visegrad, Foca and Rogatica, to find peace in this valley. But once inside they are trapped – surrounded by the Serbs. “A bird cannot pass from here,” said one refugee.

But last Friday afternoon, in the driving thunderstorm, the Serbian checkpoint that guards the western entry to the valley was unmanned.

There is no petrol in the valley, so the mountain road along the Praca river is deserted. The Serbs had been through here in April and May. Burnt-out Muslim homes bear testimony to their coming. The people fled into the mountains while their homes were being looted and then moved back to their burnt-out villages, and the Serbs moved on to richer pastures.

A Bosnian soldier came up from the river bank to say we were in Free Bosnia. “Come to the commander,” he said. But the commander came along the river path to us. He and his men melting out of the trees, dressed in teeshirts, jeans and running shoes and carrying rifles. They were young, most in their early twenties and wearing green headbands. They wanted cigarettes; none had come through to their isolated valley for four months.

This Robin Hood band were going “up” – up in to the hills behind Gorazde to attack Serbian artillery positions. The scout who led the way carried a sack on his back, and the noses of a dozen rockets peeped from behind his right shoulder.

The commander, who had a walkie-talkie, was a electrical engineer before he went to war. He wore a green chiffon headscarf with silver spangles around his head. He paused to write our note of passage into his valley.

In the village of Ustipraca, Nehad Devlic said the Serbs had come in April. Then he was a rich man, owned three restaurants and two cars and a lorry. He fled into the forest and when he came out the Serbs had taken his Alfa-Romeo, his Volkswagen Golf and his lorry and burned down his three roadside cafes.

He now lives from the land, on eggs, wild plums and sacks of wheat that come down from the fields high in the mountain. We go to visit the ruin of his roadside restaurant, built in the days when tourists passed on the road to Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. But now the roads have been blocked.

They defend the valley by causing landslides from the hill on to the road to prevent the Serbs from coming back up along the river. The balconies of the modern apartment blocks in Ustipraca are filled with chopped wood. There are no cars, no electricity, and the telephones have been cut off.

There is a tranquillity in Ustipraca, peace among the charred houses in the shade of the mosque, which has a single shell hole left by passing Serbs making their point as they went through. Old men sit in the sun, surrounded by scrawny dogs looking for food and love, with hunting rifles ready for the Serbs if they come back.

In the village of Kopaci it is not so quiet. In Mehmed Mehovic’s back garden, under trees heavy with apples and plums, broken branches cover an 8ft long cluster bomb, designed to open in the air as it falls and send baby bombs scattering over his village. The cluster bomb did not explode and has been embedded in his back garden since June.

The sound of mortars boom outside. The Serbs are still mortaring the village from the distant hills. “It’s okay, they are only 105mm; they could be 155mm, they’ve used them before – takes the house away,” says the commander.

There is no cover, no cellar. The sound of the mortars landing is like the continuous sound of a door being slammed. An unemployed English-language enthusiast, aged 28, says: “Are you British, will you help us? Do you know that song from Black Sabbath – In the Ashes the Bodies Are Burning?”

Every day someone is injured or killed in Kopaci, but they have to hang on. There is nowhere to run to.

“Wait and listen for the whistle of the mortar, then you know it’s close” says Mehmed.

On Saturday afternoon Senad Niakonja, aged 10, was wheeled in his father’s barrow to see the doctor on the hill, to take out the mortar shrapnel in his back.

Among the refugees in Kopaci is Aldijana Hasecic, who tells us of Zehra Turjacanin’s ordeal. He will take us to see her, but first he wants to say that he has come from the woods near Visegrad and has seen the camp where Serbian men are taking Muslim women.

“It’s called Zamnica and it used to be an army barracks. It’s about 10 kilometres from Visegrad to the east. I went there early in the morning of August 9. It was 5am. The people that had escaped from the Chetniks told us there was a camp for Muslim women there. We went to see if we could save them, but it was too difficult. There were too many Chetniks. I didn’t see any of them being raped, but we know it’s happening. I saw them from the trees taking the young women out from the trucks and into the barracks.”

On the hill above the village of Medjedja the next day, a weeping woman in an orange polka-dot scarf says: “They took my daughter. They took all the girls from the village. We don’t know where they are. I haven’t seen her for four months”. Standing with her in the ruins of her house, where the only identifiable object is a scorched fridge freezer, are Hamed Sulejman and his wife, Kahriman. They have come to live in the woman’s woodshed. Kahriman says they were burnt out of their village and now her home is the woodshed where she lays out her jars of pickled fruit on a shelf above the mattress.

All along the mountain top are small burnt-out villages, clumps of houses where the people who have come out from the forests to live again among the ruins tell the same story, of how the Serbs came, looted their homes, burned them down and moved on.

In the lower hill, near Visegrad, a family of Muslims who fled from the town three months ago keep their bags packed in the sitting room. “We are ready to run if they come for us again,” says their son, Milos, who says he knows of the man called Milan Lukic. He says he watched him execute his friend, Hasan Veletovac, aged 16, on the bridge over the river Drina. “I was hiding in the attic of my house which looks over the bridge. They do the killing at night. They drink first in the Visegrad hotel. When the Chetniks go in ac tion they must drink. They bulldozed the two mosques in the main street in Visegrad so we wouldn’t come back.”

We came out through the trees and walked the last couple of miles into Visegrad, in the open along the road. At first no one seemed to notice two strangers in a town that had a population of 20,000 before all Muslims were driven out and into the valley – 10,000 people.

“All the Muslims have gone,” a journalist at the Visegrad radio station would say later, when he came to translate for us in the police headquarters. “Muslim extremists were responsible, they are on the hills around us. They attacked our church and now there is no mosque in this town.”

But first there is a little time to pass quietly to the main street, where on the corner with Bratislav Street rust coloured earth marks the spot where the first bulldozed mosque stood. Further down the street another mound marks the site of the second mosque.

Behind the supermarket on Bratislav Street, looking out on the cemetery, are the tired remains of a burnt-out house. A house that may have been the one where Zehra Turjacanin’s family and 60 others were burnt to death. We asked casually about a man called Milan Lukic.

“Yes,” said the Visegrad radio journalist. “He’s a policeman here. Not the chief, just an ordinary policeman.”

Papers checked. The English journalists are allowed to pass out of town in a police car with a kind Serb driver who offers cigarettes. A truck piled with furniture is parked outside the burnt-out shell of a two-storey house.

“Muslimanis,” he says, and drives us on through another 20 miles of charred Muslim homes and villages, through an apocalyptic rural wasteland that is the new Serbian republic of Bosnia.


Helsinski Commission Hearing: Testimony – Hon. Christopher H. Smith

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 30, 2009 by visegrad92

Ranking Minority Member – Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and welcome to everyone here this morning.

Mr. Chairman, our government and the European governments are not actively promoting constitutional reform in Bosnia, and this inaction is partly to blame for rising ethnic tension in Bosnia and the region.

The Dayton Accords were signed 14 years ago. They achieved their purpose in stopping the genocide—they were never meant to do more than this, certainly not to become a permanent constitution. But somehow that has become the question: will Bosnia continue to be governed by the Dayton Accords or a Dayton-like constitution that provides for so-called “entity-voting”? Or will it become a one-person, one-vote democracy?

Bosnia has reached a fork in the road, and it has stopped there. Under Dayton, with its mutual vetoes, neither the Bosnian Serbs, who will accept nothing less than “entity voting”, nor the Bosnian and Croatian advocates of democracy, have the authority to resolve the question.

Mr. Chairman, I believe it is time for our government to exercise real leadership by re-engaging in Bosnia and promoting the only possible solution: a constitution providing for a one-person, one-vote democracy. The current policy, of both the US and the European governments, seems to be, in effect, to tell the Bosnians to simply “work it out” among themselves.

Yet we see very well that, in practice, “work it out yourselves” means that the Serbs prevail, Dayton continues, and separatists continue to stir the pot. In Bosnia, time not on the side of democracy.

The separatist testing of the waters was unmistakable this summer when Srpska Prime Minister Dodik introduced in the Srpska parliament a resolution obliging Srpska officials to oppose constitutional reform. This very month Serbian President Tadi? traveled to Bosnia to participate in ceremonies opening a grade school: he did not even inform Bosnian officials of his visit; and the school, named “Serbia,” was in Srpska, on the very hill from which Karadzi?’s militias bombarded Sarajevo for three murderous years; Srpska Prime Minister Dodik showed up, and addressed Tadi? as “our” president. Worst of all, the international response to this has been muted. We can now be sure that the separatists will increase their troublemaking.

Mr. Chairman, it is very sad to see that the tragically mistaken Balkan policy of the 1990s—the neutrality/ non-engagement policy—has become our current policy. We all hope and believe that this won’t lead to human tragedy on the same scale as the 1990s Serb genocide of the Bosniaks. But in any case our policy should be to provide real leadership toward democratic reform, and to give the Serbs every reason to participate in it–certainly never to encourage separatists.

Source: Commission on Security and Cooperation

New mass grave in Visegrad

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 28, 2009 by visegrad92

A new mass grave has been found in Visegrad. It is located in the Straziste cemetery in Visegrad. The site was covered with garbage. Among the remains of Bosniak victims were roof tiles, rubbish and especially lime.

The most important fact is that remains of clothing were found by which some victims maybe identified.

Note: This mass grave was found thanks to information given by local Visegrad Serbs who knew about this mass grave.

mgrobnica1

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica2

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica3

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica5

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica6

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica7

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

mgrobnica8

Image: A new mass grave was discovered in Straziste cemetary in Visegrad. The remains were mixed with roof tiles, rubbish and covered with lime. Clothing and shoes of victims were found in the mass grave.

The abysses behind the façades of eastern Bosnia

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2009 by visegrad92

Author: Martin Woker, Visegrad
Uploaded: Monday, 21 July, 2008

A moving report translated from ‘Neue Zürcher Zeitung’ (Zurich) outlines the problems faced by those who would like to market the Bridge over the Drina in the small town of Visegrad in eastern Bosnia. The Visegrad authorities are hoping for a boost from the fact that the bridge has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But the town is a place still burdened by the terrible crimes committed there in the recent war.

Sometimes a paint-job renovation can really work wonders. Thus, for instance, in the shady garden of the Hotel Visegrad in the small town of the same name in eastern Bosnia. The furniture has been freshly painted and the façade of the inn also glows in new colours. The tables are well occupied at lunchtime today, mainly by locals, as one can tell from the licence plates of the cars in the parking lot. Five years ago the place still looked completely run-down and was hardly frequented by visitors. Its garden restaurant is located next to the eastern end of the stone bridge, which was built 420 years ago to make a difficult and dangerous river-crossing easier on the highway leading from Sarajevo to Istanbul. This spring, UNESCO’s secretary-general, Koichiro Matsuura, visited and bestowed a certificate on the bridge, which had been inscribed on the World Heritage List the previous year. Since that time, Bosnia-Herzegovina is now represented by two sites on UNESCO’s list: the bridge over the Neretva in Mostar, and the one over the Drina in Visegrad.

A stage for three and a half centuries

Unlike the bridge in Mostar, which was completely destroyed in the recent war and became a much-photographed object once again only after being rebuilt four years ago, the Bridge of Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic in Visegrad is at least in part an original structure that bears witness to ‘the cultural exchanges between the Balkans, the Ottoman Empire and the Mediterranean world, between Christianity and Islam, through the long course of history,’ in UNESCO’s formulation. What is understood by such cultural exchanges was described by the author (and

diplomat) Ivo Andric, who grew up in Visegrad living with his aunt and died in 1975, in his most famous work, The Bridge on the Drina. The novel was part of his Bosnian trilogy, which earned him the Nobel Prize for literature in 1961. Andric’s works were required reading in the schools of the former Yugoslavia.

‘The bridge is about two hundred and fifty paces long and about ten paces wide save in the middle where it widens out into two completely equal terraces placed symmetrically on either side of the roadway and making it twice its normal width. This was the part of the bridge known as the kapija, the gate. Two buttresses had been built there on each side of the central pier which had been splayed out towards the top, so that to right and left of the roadway there were two terraces daringly and harmoniously projecting outwards from the straight line of the bridge over the noisy green waters far below. … That on the right as one came from the town was called the sofa. It was raised by two steps and bordered by benches for which the parapet served as a back steps, benches and parapet were all made of the same shining stone. That on the left, opposite the sofa, was similar but without benches. … On this part of the terrace a coffee-maker had installed himself with his copper vessels and Turkish cups and ever-lighted charcoal brazier, and an apprentice who took the coffee over the way to the guests on the sofa. Such was the kapija.’

In the 400 pages that follow, the kapija to a certain extent forms the stage for a lively tableau, extending over three and a half centuries, of life in Andric’s home town and of its Muslim, Christian and Jewish inhabitants. For a long time the bridge freed Visegrad from its geographically marginal position and brought travellers from all the world to the little town. The aim of the present local authorities is to find a way to latch on to this tradition. Opposite the hotel stands a new pavilion, recently built and still closed and empty but already marked as a tourist information centre. Right around the corner, built in a daring Yugo-modernist style, is the tall Robna kuca. That is what almost all department stores were called in the former Yugoslavia. In Visegrad, where the sparse traffic makes pedestrian zones unnecessary, this relic of a vanished era has not only survived but, it appears, it has even gotten a new paint job. Nevertheless, this Visegrad is hardly a boom town, but thanks to the bridge that is supposed to change soon.

Bold plans

At least that’s how the future looks to Milan Milicevic, the town’s current mayor and a member of the Serbian Democratic Party, founded by Radovan Karadzic. The chain-smoking town father first presents the visitor with an English edition of Andric’s novel, autographed by the mayor himself. Then he lays out his bold plans, which are to culminate in a close partnership with the

city of Mostar and are to include a project to rebuild a narrow-gauge railroad that was abandoned in the 1970s. All that is to be for the enjoyment of future hordes of tourists, who can come here to admire a newly re-established Orthodox monastery and, of course, the bridge, which is to be artfully restored in the near future by a Turkish firm, at a cost of 3 million euros.

At present, says Milicevic, most of the visitors come from Serbia or from the Republika Srpska, as the entity created during the recent war calls itself. But the first Japanese and Germans have already been sighted. An upswing in tourism is expected, he says. But where in Visegrad are all these foreign visitors supposed to stay overnight? Those coming from the Dalmatian coast could not possibly do the excursion as a day-trip. No problem, says the mayor. In the town and its vicinity there are three hotels with more than 400 beds.

One of these stands in a lonesome, wooded side-valley a bit further downstream and is part of a spa resort called Vilina Vlas. On the steps leading into the barely 30-year-old building (also built in the unmistakable Yugo-style) two cigarette-smoking gentlemen are standing, one of them with crutches. They are here to take the cure in the healing waters of the hot springs, which contain radioactive elements. The hotel is still awaiting privatization. The city administration, its present owner, has had some of the walls freshly painted, which however has not really improved matters. Seven cars and a tour bus (with Serbian licence plates) stand in the parking lot. Most of the 160 beds are not taken, despite the moderate price charged for room and board. Unthinking visitors from rich Europe might possibly appreciate the down-at-the-heels exoticism of the place. Unless they thought first to enter its name into an internet search engine.

Whoever does that will encounter abysses of human perversion that would shake even the most blunted sensibilities. Those who come across the research of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network [BIRN] concerning the events of April 1992 in Vilina Vlas will find themselves transported into a wartime reality that could not be more terrible or more repulsive. The hotel served as the headquarters for the Serb militia in Visegrad during that period, while they were carrying out the so-called ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the area. At the same time it also served as a provisional prison for abducted Muslim civilians, mainly women and girls who were systematically raped in the hotel rooms. There are credible witness testimonies of the most severely abused female captives, who saved themselves from their tormentors by leaping across the balcony railings and committing suicide. The principal perpetrator and leader of the militia was a man born in the region, 25 years old at the time, by the name of Milan Lukic, who in the early spring of 1992, when fighting first broke out in the Drina valley, left his place of residence in Zurich in order to turn the idea of a Greater Serbia, promoted by figures such as Vojislav Seselj and other war criminals, into a reality in his homeland.

What was required to achieve this aim was the expulsion of all non-Serbs from Visegrad and its surroundings. In the 1991 census, 62 percent of the slightly more than 21,000 inhabitants had identified themselves as Bosniaks (Muslims), while only half as many were Serbs. Thus, just as in other regions of Bosnia affected by ‘ethnic cleansing,’ terror was employed as the principal method of driving out the Muslim majority population in Visegrad. The indictment issued against Milan Lukic by the UN tribunal in The Hague lists a series of executions and murders of Muslim civilians. Women, men, old people and children died locked inside houses which were set on fire by Lukic’s militiamen. Rapes, however, are not mentioned in the indictment.

Unpunished crimes

Bakira Hasecic, president of the association ‘Women Victims of War in Bosnia and Herzegovina,’ has bitter things to say about this fact. She herself comes from Visegrad, a survivor of rapes and other abuse along with her two underage daughters, and she is sure that she would always recognize Milan Lukic again, since he is missing an index finger. The event that prompted the founding of the association was a one-day organized return of Muslim women to Visegrad to visit their destroyed homes. What caused most indignation during the visit, says Hasecic, was that she and the other women recognized three of their former tormentors, although the men were now wearing the uniforms of the regular police of the Republika Srpska. The three later may well have been brought before a court. But the shock the women suffered finally prompted them to establish the association. Prior to that, the subject of rapes had been treated as strictly taboo in Bosnia. ‘It was very difficult for us to admit it publicly,’ says Hasecic, ‘we had to lay bare our souls to do it.’

That conversation took place two years ago, on the occasion of a showing of the award-winning Bosnian film Grbavica, which is based on the theme of a girl born as a result of a wartime rape and her relationship with her mother. At the time, Hasecic and other women victims from Visegrad could not understand why Milan Lukic, who was arrested in Argentina in the summer of 2005, was not charged also with rape, even though there was more than enough judicially relevant evidence for it. According to a report by BIRN, the prosecutors in The Hague have recently asked the court to expand Lukic’s indictment to include charges of rape, torture and abuse of prisoners. The acceptance of this request by the court would mean a partial success for the association of women victims: a result of their tirelessly maintained public pressure.

Function as a meeting place lost

Their insistence on reminding the public of the countless atrocities which took place only 16 years ago, and which for the most part have not led to prosecutions of those responsible, necessarily brought Hasecic and other victims of the war into the foreground of UNESCO’s festive certification of the bridge. On the bridge they placed a memorial tablet (which has long since been removed again), and they read out a list of the names of all the victims of the war from the Visegrad region: 3,000 according to their count, while other sources speak of between 1,200 and 1,500 dead. In any case, Visegrad is no longer the town described by Andric. Only a very small number of the expelled Bosniaks have returned to their rebuilt houses. Their exact number is unknown. The ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the region has been accomplished; what remains is a town robbed of its Balkan multiculturalism and thereby deprived of its richness.

On the day after the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, on 28 June 1914, writes Andric, an official announcement was posted on the kapija: ‘… printed in fat letters and framed with a broad black border. It announced to the people the news of the assassination of the crown prince in Sarajevo, and expressed outrage over this misdeed. But not one among those who passed in front of the announcement stopped to read it, but all passed by the poster and by the guard posted there with their heads lowered, walking as fast as they could.’

As of three months ago, a plaque placed at the end of the bridge announces its world-wide significance as a heritage site. The inscription arouses the interest of very few tourists who have come to visit the bridge on this early summer day. The locals who would pass it with their heads bowed are not to be seen. The historic structure has lost its function as a meeting place. The last time that the kapija served as a stage, for the time being, was during the summer of 1992. It was a stage for the murder of innocents, whose bodies disappeared into the Drina. But there is neither a novel nor an inscription to bear witness to that. And it is also not mentioned in the new tourist guidebooks that are gradually starting to appear again in Bosnia. Could it be that the paint-job renovation has achieved the effect it aimed for? Let us hope not.

Translated by András Riedlmayer from Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 11 July 2008. Martin Voker is the newspaper’s South-East Europe correspondent

Source: Bosnian Institute

Visegrad’s Serbs fight their ghosts

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 26, 2009 by visegrad92

Residents of “ethnically cleansed” town fear the return of thousands of Muslims

26.8.1996

JEAN HATZFELD

VISEGRAD.-  Today the only load travelling over Visegrad’s ancient bridge, the inspiration of an Ottoman sultan keen to encourage the growth trade between Istanbul and Sarajevo, is one of Serb bitterness.  Along and across the bridge, from dawn to dusk flows the resentment of the inhabitants of Visegrad, a town with a long history as a trading centre but whose one-time prosperity is just a distant memory.

That resentment is accompanied by the bitter hatred felt by immigrants from the early days of the war who have spent four years waiting in the hope of being able to return to the homes they abandoned in Gorazde or Sarajevo.  And the disillusion of those who came here from the Sarajevo suburbs of Ilidza and Vogosca after the reunification of Bosnia’s capital city.  “Between you and me, nobody hates anybody any more and nobody loves anybody either”, Ana, a beautiful Sarajevan, observed.

On the far side of the bridge election posters decorate the walls and shop windows.  There are posters for the Serbian Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj, representing the nationalist extreme right in Serbia. There are posters, too, for the Party of Serbian Unity, the party of the warlord Arkan, leader of the murderous paramilitaries responsible for most of the terror campaigns conducted in Croatia and Bosnia. And finally the posters of the Serb Democratic Party of Radovan Karadzic.

Ethnic Cleansing

The posters show these three apostles of the doctrine of ethnic cleansing trying to outdo one another in a show of respectability.  The first is sitting behind a desk in a plush ministerial office.  The second has exchanged his combat fatigues for a sky-blue suit.  And the third, despite his banishment from political life, is everywhere you go, that permanent ironic smile beaming beneath a mane of silver-streaked hair.

There is no sign of the moderate Banja Luka parties put together by Radic and Jovanovic who urge a realistic approach to implementing the Dayton accords. “There’s no room for traitors here”, explains Lilan, in the Café Atina.  And nor is there any sign of Milosevic’s supporters.

Café Atina, next door to the Town Hall, is the place where former paramilitaries, warlords and traffickers of every kind get together. Milan, a former bar-owner, savours his coffee with a dash of milk, along with Joco, a former policeman, and Ninoslav, an ex-football player. Who will they be casting their vote for in three days time?  Do they support Arkan or Seselj?  They smile and reply. “All there is to say about those two is that they’re from Serbia. We are going to be voting for a Bosnian. For the Bosnian who has always defended us”, Joco replies.  Milan confirms what his friend has said: “Here everyone will be voting for Karadzic’s SDS”.

On the terrace of a nameless café overlooking the Drina Ana observes, “I hate Visegrad. I don’t have any particular affection whatsoever for Karadzic but I’ll be voting for his party, to keep my parents happy”.  Ana celebrated her fifteenth birthday in Sarajevo on the day war broke out.  She moved to Grbavica and spent four years in a flat owned by the family and shared with other refugees.

Bombardment

Four years of boredom and cold.  Four years of artillery bombardments that destroyed an adolescence that vanished between the death of her brother and the disappearance of her boyfriend.  Last February the family decided to move to Visegrad.

Ana, 19, is fed up with the Serbs’ lack of sophistication and narrow-mindedness. She is scathing about Belgrade, a city “where people treat Bosnians as people from an under-developed country”.  And she dreams of going to America. “There’s no future for young people here. I would never have children here, in a primitive country that goes on the warpath every fifty years.  But if the Muslims come back, that means the end for my parents.  And on election day the Muslims are going to be coming here with IFOR”.

The walls of Visegrad, clambering up the gorge of the Drina 120 kilometres from Sarajevo, show few signs of the war-time conflict.  From time to time you see the occasional house where a mortar has exploded and a few burned-out warehouses, the sole witnesses – here or in the towns round about – of the savage ethnic cleansing that was carried out in early April 1992.

Then there were 14,000 Muslims living in this border town, out of a total of 25,000 inhabitants.  Not a single one of them remains.  “The fighting was fierce.  After a few days they were all gone.  We’ve not seen them since”, reports Joco, with a triumphant smile on his lips.

Did they leave or were they buried?  Joco shrugs his shoulders.  There are still no statistics to confirm how many managed to reach Gorazde, how many were killed in the town or disappeared into the turbid waters of the Drina.  No census to tell us how many people will be able to cast their vote in Visegrad.

The road to Gorazde

The SDS’s local parliamentary candidate, Branimir Savovic, is the town council’s former president, appointed by Pale at the start of the war, and he refuses to speak to foreigners.

The party’s candidate in the regional elections, Aleksandar Savic, also prefers to remain silent, as does Milanka Tomaskovic, president of the regional electoral  commission. “No-one is interested in politics in Visegrad.  All that people are concerned about is the arrival of the Muslims”, insists Dragana, a secretary in Visegrad Town Hall.

Up until the cut-off date of 15 July every Bosnian had the right to choose whether they wanted to be on the electoral roll at their current place of residence or where they lived in 1991, when the last elections took place.  In Visegrad 16,000 Serbs of voting age have registered to vote, both locals and refugees.  But what about the Muslim survivors?

In this mountainous area, eight months since the ceasefire, not a single Serb or Muslim has dared travel the fifty kilometres separating Visegrad and Gorazde.  No-one boards the bus from Visegrad to Foca at Visegrad (“they used to slit our throats on the road to Gorazde, next to the IFOR tanks”, says Milan).

In this valley with a host of unseen demons brooding over its future, few Muslims are expected to overcome their traumas and make the decision to return.

Meanwhile those not occupied doing a bit of buying and selling or away visiting family in Serbia are hoping that the coming winter will bring snow to the valley’s slopes and next spring will see more water flowing down the Drina.

Beside the river the only business still working is the Varda furniture factory.  Ivo, whose job is to cut up planks of wood, asserts that “Before, it was the businessmen who made the place rich who ran the town, the Muslims. Now the people in charge are the people who defend it, the Serbs”.  Who defend it against whom, against what ghosts?  Ivo declines to answer.

Source: El Mundo

Translation rights reserved

JNA linked to Ethnic Cleansing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2009 by visegrad92

Yugoslav army implicated in atrocities against Muslims in eastern Bosnian town.

By Emir Suljagic in The Hague (TU 323, 05 September 2003)

A witness in the Milosevic trial this week accused Yugoslav army, JNA, troops of crossing the border into Bosnia to ethnically cleanse the town of Visegrad in the early phase of the Bosnian war.

The claim is potentially hugely significant – prosecutors say Milosevic, then the president of Serbia, had control over Yugoslav security forces.

Testifying under a pseudonym B-1505, he said JNA troops came to Visegrad, took control of the eastern Bosnian town and helped expel the Muslim population.

JNA troops turned up in Visegrad in mid April 1992, under the command of Colonel Dragoljub Ojdanic, one of Milosevic’s top commanders.

B-1505 said he met the colonel in person on two occasions in the town. Once, while waiting for him at army headquarters, he said he overheard five JNA officers planning the ethnic cleansing of local Muslims.

One pulled out a map of the town on the table, and said that the right bank of the Drina river was “clear”. “And tomorrow, we will cleanse this part,” the witness claimed the officer said.

B-1505 said the colonel took him to a place where 3,000 to 4,000 people had taken refuge. The witness insisted that the JNA protect them. Ojdanic then ordered one of his subordinates to arrange for them to be brought into the town.

The next day, thousands of civilians were escorted to Visegrad’s football pitch. When they arrived, they were split into four groups and searched before being allowed to leave. They could not go home, however.

A JNA officer, which the witness could identify only as Colonel Jovanovic, told them that they would only be able to go to the villages that were under his control. He said that outside this area there were Serb paramilitary units, the White Eagles, roaming around and they would kill Muslims on sight.

Then came apparent confirmation of links between the Bosnian Serbs and Yugoslav army. While waiting to see the colonel at the Visegrad Hotel, the witness saw Bosnian Serb vice president Biljana Plavsic arrive with Branimir Savovic, head of the local Serbian Democratic Party. They arrived for talks with the JNA officers.

“They went into a room. I was told later that colonel could not see me and that I should come the next day,” he said.

In the next few days, JNA took control of Visegrad.

Later, atrocities took place across the town, with Muslims taken to its famous bridge, shot and dumped into the river.

Milosevic denied that JNA had taken part in the ethnic cleansing there, saying the whole testimony was “a lie”.

But the witness said there was a simple fact that underpinned his testimony, “There were 13,000-14,000 Muslims before the war. There was none in 1993. And there are 1,500 today.”

Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

Source: IWPR