Hopes Fade For Some Refugees

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AS the stunned survivors of the Bosnian Serb conquest of Zepa try to cobble their lives back together in a dim elementary school gym, a run-down former cinema, and a sweltering 40-tent refugee camp here, worry is slowly turning to grief.

Old women talk of lost sons, old men talk of lost friends, and mothers struggle to explain lost fathers to bewildered children.

Hopes are quickly fading that the Bosnian Serb ''ethnic cleansing'' of the Muslim enclave of Zepa in eastern Bosnia would include less brutality than the cleansing of Srebrenica after it was overrun by Serbs July 11.

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The Bosnian Serbs allowed the United Nations-supervised evacuation of 4,500 women and children from the UN ''safe area'' last week, but the fate of an estimated 3,000 people -including 1,500 armed men - cornered by Serb forces in the valley around Zepa appears dire.

UN officials said Saturday that Bosnian Serb soldiers seized 36 men from the final bus of civilians departing from the enclave. The Bosnian Serb troops also burned and looted the enclave's central village, and Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic said the leader of Muslim forces in the town, Advo Palic, had been seized and executed.

UN officials expect General Mladic's troops to systematically hunt down the men hiding in the 60-square-mile enclave and are concerned that the Bosnian Muslim men face the same fate as 7,000 people still missing from Srebrenica. Refugees from Srebrenica report that hundreds of men captured in and around Srebrenica have been summarily executed by the Bosnian Serbs.

UN human rights envoy Tadeusz Mazowiecki accused the Bosnian Serbs of ''barbarism'' in Srebrenica and possibly Zepa last week and resigned over the UN's failure to make any effort to halt the fall of Zepa.

''It's 30 miles [to Muslim-held territory],'' says a somber woman who escaped Zepa with her two young children.

''It's too far for my husband to get away,'' she says.

Men from Zepa face a more difficult escape route than the 1,400 men - out of an initial group of 8,000 - who survived a treacherous, 20-mile march through Serb-held territory.

The Zepa enclave lies in one of the deepest gorges in the former Yugoslavia. A steep mountain nearly blocks escape to the north while Bosnian Serb forces are massed to the south.

Some refugees held out hope that the men could escape to Gorazde, the only remaining Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia, which lies 20 miles to the south. They described huddling in the hills around the enclave after it fell on July 25. They cooked only at night and in deep pits out of fear that the Bosnian Serbs would see the smoke from their fires and close in.

''All of the people fled into the woods. I don't know how many days I spent there,'' says Edina, a teenage girl who arrived here from Zepa on Thursday night. ''My father and brother are still there. I fear for them so much,'' she says.

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