Dirty War of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

Los Angeles Times

August 10, 1992 |

By CHARLES T. POWERS, TIMES STAFF WRITER

Column One

Dirty War of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’

Muslim Slavs have been robbed, beaten, thrown out of their homes and imprisoned by Serbian militiamen. Their accounts suggest a clear pattern of persecution.

August 10, 1992|CHARLES T. POWERS, TIMES STAFF WRITER

ZAGREB, Croatia — While visiting his son in Visegrad in eastern Bosnia earlier this summer, Delic Suljo, a 65-year-old retired factory worker from Gorazde, learned what the twisted term “ethnic cleansing” has come to mean to some here.

Suljo’s story isn’t easy to hear. It provides a glimpse, however, into how some have carried out the terror, thuggery, theft and murder that have engulfed the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina and made an estimated 2.2 million citizens of the former federation refugees.

Both sides in the Yugoslav civil war–Croats and Serbs–have been accused of committing atrocities as they have tried to capture and control disputed territory, much of it–especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina–in areas where Muslims, Croats and Serbs long have lived together in harmony.

But world attention has been riveted in recent days by new allegations of Serbian brutality–ugly conduct that has been likened by some to Nazi-era horrors and chillingly linked by statements of some Serbian leaders about what they call “ethnic cleansing,” the removal of non-Serbs from areas claimed by Serbs.

This process began in Visegrad, said Suljo and Vanica Basija, 68, a Visegrad resident, when Serbian militiamen moved in a day after the former Yugoslav National Army stopped shelling the town. The soldiers drove through Visegrad with loudspeakers mounted on trucks, urging citizens, “Remain loyal!”–to what was not made clear–and “Do your work and you will not be harmed!”

The militiamen, Suljo said, then moved through the city, street by street, with lists of residents on which Muslim names were readily identifiable. When the Muslims–or, in some cases, Croats–were not identified or listed on the post office register, simple terror could be used to induce some Serbian residents of Visegrad to identify their Muslim neighbors.

Sometimes, according to Suljo and other refugees, the Serbian neighbors were willing accomplices. But in some cases, the Serbian neighbors–among whom they have lived all their lives–were horror-stricken and did what they could to help.

From the upper floor of his son’s house, Suljo said he watched from May 12 to June 15 as Serbian militiamen murdered scores of unarmed civilians on the bridges at either end of the town’s main street. They heaved the bodies into the river, he said.

On June 16, the Serbs, with their lists, came to Suljo’s street.

“They called everyone out from the houses,” he said. “They told us to wait until they brought the truck. But I had already seen where the truck went, and we got very scared. And 11 of us tried to get to the Red Cross. As we were going, two (Serbian guerrillas) came from behind us and stopped us. At that moment, we were 40 yards from the old bridge. . . . And then we heard a car stop, and someone in the car, another (soldier), yelled at them to leave us alone. They had an argument. One in the car said, ‘Let them go; they are too old.’

“Then the two of them marched us to a nearby schoolyard,” Suljo said, “and started to interrogate us about our sons and daughters. . . . When I said I was from Gorazde, one of them hit me with a clenched fist to the nose. Then my nose started to bleed. And then they kicked me with their boots and broke three of my ribs. . . .

“They ordered me and one other older man to go in front of them,” he recalled. “And I thought for sure they were going to kill us on the bridge. We were walking in front of the hotel where most of the (militiamen) were sleeping. There was a body there, in the street, of a man whose head was almost destroyed. . . . (A soldier) ordered us to drag him to the bridge. We dragged the body, by the legs, to the bridge, and they ordered us to throw him over.

“When we came on the bridge,” he said, “we saw a brain, a human brain. . . . The (soldier) made the other man pick it up and throw it in the river. . . . There were two more bodies on the bridge, men whose throats had been cut. He ordered us to throw these two bodies into the river.

“As I was in poor condition, with my ribs broken, and the other man very old, it was very hard to do, and he kicked us a few times,” he said. “So we managed to throw these two bodies, as well. When we finished, we were covered in blood, all my clothes soaked in blood, head to foot.”

In an evident act of leniency for their labor, the militiamen spared Suljo and his companion that day. The next morning, he managed to flee to the town’s Red Cross office, where local people–Serbs, Suljo hastened to point out–helped to get him out of town, to relative safety. “You ask why they are doing this,” Suljo said of his bloody ordeal at the hands of the militiamen. “They are doing it because we are Muslims.”

Editor’s Note: Only part I of Mr. Power’s article was re-published on Visegrad Genocide Memories – the part dealing with Visegrad. The complete article can be found here.

One Response to “Dirty War of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’”

  1. A brain prised from a skull that will never be found intact. One wonders what thoughts were passing through Jelena Rasic’s head as she tried to protect the perpetrator of atrocities like this.

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