4 July 1992
Bosnians Forced Out of Town Describe Massacre
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.”