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Bosnia Muslims Were Killed by The Truckload

MONITOR EXCLUSIVE . Until now, the world knew little of what happened when Bosnian Serb forces took over the UN-protected Muslim town of Srebrenica in July. But Monitor interviews with nine survivors tell of systematic executions and massive war crimes.

By David RohdeStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 2, 1995



TUZLA, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

BOSNIAN Serb soldiers systematically executed as many as 2,000 Muslim prisoners after taking the UN ''safe area'' of Srebrenica in July, according to credible eyewitness accounts newly obtained by The Christian Science Monitor.

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Nine Muslim men who say they are survivors of mass executions gave separate, corroborating accounts of what could be one of the greatest single war crimes of Bosnia's brutal 3-1/2 year conflict. Executing prisoners is a war crime according to the Geneva Convention.

In interviews that were conducted without the supervision of the Bosnian government, the nine men gave compelling accounts of mass executions in five locations.

A pattern of hundreds of Muslim soldiers and male civilians being taken to the Serb-held villages of Nova Kasaba, Kravica, and Bratunac - near Srebrenica - on July 13 emerged from the accounts. Last month, the Monitor uncovered evidence that a mass grave containing hundreds of bodies exists in Nova Kasaba.

The largest execution appears to have occurred near Karakaj. Up to 2,000 prisoners were taken from the three villages to a remote location near the Serb-held town, 25 miles northwest of Srebrenica, and executed on July 14, according to the survivors.

Srebrenica, a refugee-packed mining town nestled in the thick forests and rolling hills of eastern Bosnia, fell to the Bosnian Serbs on July 11.

The conquest of the town and subsequent Bosnian Serb ''ethnic cleansing'' of its 40,000 Muslim residents sparked events that led to a more muscular Clinton administration policy in Bosnia, which soon may bring peace.

Bosnian Serb officials have repeatedly denied that any atrocities were committed by their forces following the fall of Srebrenica, but mounting evidence of widespread executions is again turning Srebrenica into a test of President Clinton's resolve.

Guaranteeing that the Bosnian Serbs allow access to the sites of the reported executions and that indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals - including Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic - are prosecuted could fall victim to the administration's desire to establish any peace in Bosnia before the 1996 election campaign enters full swing.

The nine survivors, four of whom have never been interviewed by a journalist before, paint a chilling picture of a far vaster killing field around Srebrenica than previously imagined:

* Along with the execution of as many as 2,000 prisoners in Karakaj, hundreds of prisoners were executed in a warehouse in the village of Kravica, according to a survivor. At least three other executions involving 15 to 30 men occurred near the villages of Kuslat, Zabrde, and Rasica Gai, according to other survivors.

* Between 300 and 400 elderly and infirm men who were either ordered by Dutch peacekeepers to leave the UN compound at Potocari or prevented from entering it were seized by Bosnian Serb soldiers and later executed in Karakaj on July 14, according to a Karakaj survivor. Surem Huljic, a man who says he was seized with other men in Potocari but survived the massacre by playing dead, believes all the men seized in Potocari were killed.

Another Karakaj survivor, Smail Hodjic, said he was told by several prisoners before the executions began in Karakaj that they had been taken captive by the Bosnian Serbs in Potocari.

* Two massacre survivors reported seeing Bosnian Serb soldiers driving a UN armored personnel carrier after the fall of Srebrenica. Mevludin Oric, a Karakaj survivor, said a UN APC driven by men in UN uniforms who spoke fluent Serbo-Croatian escorted six buses of Muslim prisoners from the town of Bratunac to Karakaj on the morning of July 14. Oric believes the men were Serbs masquerading as UN soldiers to make prisoners believe that they were headed for a prisoner exchange in Karakaj, not a mass executi on.

* Eight of the survivors reported either being robbed, beaten, and tortured themselves or seeing other prisoners beaten or tortured by Bosnian Serb soldiers. More than 50 Muslims, most of whom were prominent political or business figures before the war, were singled out for torture and execution by Bosnian Serb soldiers and civilians on the night of July 13 when thousands of prisoners were held in the towns of Bratunac and Kravica, according to four survivors.

* General Mladic, who US officials are currently negotiating with, spoke to prisoners or was seen at five sites - Potocari, Bratunac, Nova Kasaba, Kravica, and Karakaj - hours before executions were carried out, according to five survivors. Two Karakaj survivors say they saw Mladic riding in a car on the way to the execution site and getting out of a car at the Karakaj site as the killings occurred.

In separate interviews, the survivors described a similar sequence of events involving Mladic. According to the accounts, the general introduced himself or was introduced by his troops to prisoners. Mladic first mocked Bosnian government leaders and then promised the prisoners they would not be harmed and would be exchanged for Bosnian Serb prisoners.