TUZLA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — THE last time any of her friends saw Fahira Hadzic, the 56-year-old Muslim widow was under Bosnian Serb guard, her face wet with tears and red with welts from an apparent beating.
``One of our friends saw her sitting in a room with men who were separated from our group. She said Fahira looked awful, that she had been beaten,'' recounts Nezveta Ramic.
``Our friend heard the Serbian police talking about how they had beaten up a woman,'' she says.
While Mrs. Hadzic and the male prisoners were kept behind, their captors robbed Mrs. Ramic and more than 1,000 other Muslims of cash and jewelry, drove them to a no man's land and forced them to walk to Bosnian Army lines near the government-held city of Tuzla.
During the mile-long trek through the rain early Monday, one person stepped on a mine and died. Another died of exhaustion. Scores of traumatized elderly and ill people had to be carried.
As the United Nations considers relaxing sanctions to reward Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic for allegedly halting his support to the Bosnian Serbs, the brutal racial-purification process he patronized is nearing completion. All three sides in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina have committed ethnic atrocities, but Serb ``ethnic cleansing'' has far exceeded that done by the Muslims or Croats.
In excess of 2,500 Muslims were expelled Sunday and Monday from the northeastern Bijeljina region, one of only two Bosnian Serb-held areas with significant non-Serb populations left after 30 months of war. The other, Banja Luka, is also in the final stages of ethnic cleansing.
Hundreds of non-Serb men have been held back and sent to Bosnian Serb military-run labor camps.
Only about 2,500 of the Bijeljina district's 30,000 Muslims are said to remain after this week's expulsions; more than 5,000 have been forced from their homes since July. Those remaining are expected to be ousted shortly, completing the destruction of a community that has existed for centuries.
The international community has done nothing to stop the expulsions overseen by Vojkan Djurkovic, a self-styled major in a paramilitary unit loyal to Zeljko ``Arkan'' Raznatovic, a suspected war criminal and reputed Belgrade mafia chieftain.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who promised two weeks ago to halt the expulsions, legitimized Mr. Djurkovic by making him the head of the State Commission for Civilian Population Exchanges.
Djurkovic is believed to share with his political masters the vast hauls of money, jewelry, and other valuables pillaged from those expelled. Bosnian Serb refugees are given the vacant homes.
Expellees interviewed in Tuzla say Djurkovic, his thugs, and military cronies began a reign of terror - beatings, thefts, murders, and rapes - months ago to destroy any resolve among Bijeljina's Muslims to remain in their homes.
``Some men broke into our house and beat my husband with a club. They locked us in a room and took everything from the house,'' says Bida Memisevic of Janja, a Muslim village that has borne the brunt of the latest expulsions.
ABOUT a month ago, Janja's Muslims were ordered to collect in the village square, where Djurkovic announced that all were to register at his office for expulsion to Tuzla, expellees report.
Rather than submit, many Muslims fled into the forests. Others tried escaping by swimming the nearby Drina River to Serbia, from where they planned to travel to Hungary. At least two Muslims have been shot dead trying to cross the Drina, expellees say.
But most Muslims were so terrified by this time that they willingly paid Djurkovic the ``transportation'' fees he demanded: $160 per woman and child and up to $1,500 per man, expellees say.
``They told us when they were coming and trucks arrived to pick us up,'' Mrs. Memisevic says. ``They took us to a school in Ban Brdo. One soldier got on each truck and said, `Fill up this bag with your money. If I find any that you've kept, I'll kill you.' ''
``They then took us into the school and separated the able-bodied men. Women who cried were slapped. Children screamed. The Serbs threatened to kill one woman because she would not stop crying,'' Memisevic continues.
``They put us back on the trucks. We were screaming and crying. They threatened to shoot us. They drove us to the frontlines and after we walked two kilometers, two of our [Bosnian Army] soldiers met us,'' she says.
Witnesses say Hadzic had gotten back onto a truck after the searches at the school when Bosnian Serb militiamen ordered her to get off again.
``She was crying. She asked why did she have to stay,'' Ramic recounts. Several friends say they believe Hadzic was taken away by Djurkovic because two weeks ago she dared to talk to a International Committee of the Red Cross representative who visited Janja to inquire about the situation there.
``Fahira tried to persuade me to talk to them also,'' says a neighbor, who asked not to be identified. ``She later told me that she took them to her house, and they had lunch.''
The prisoners with whom Hadzic was last seen are believed to be digging frontline trenches, carting dead and wounded, and doing other grueling forced labor for the Bosnian Serbs.
Hadzic's fate is unknown. She has disappeared.