Eyewitnesses Confirm Massacres in Bosnia

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

A FIELD just outside the Bosnian Serb-held farming village of Nova Kasaba is a mass grave holding the bodies of hundreds of Muslim men from the fallen United Nations ''safe area'' of Srebrenica, according to eyewitness accounts newly obtained by The Christian Science Monitor.

The new evidence - combined with a decomposed human leg and documents from Srebrenica found at the site by the Monitor on Aug. 16 - confirms Clinton administration allegations that Muslim prisoners were gathered on a nearby soccer field, addressed by Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, and executed on July 14 or 15.

Senior UN officials close to The Hague-based International War Crimes Tribunal say indictments for war crimes following the fall of Srebrenica, possibly involving General Mladic, could be issued within weeks. The officials also confirmed that the findings of a Monitor investigation, which concluded that more than 2,000 Muslim prisoners were executed and at least four mass graves exist around Srebrenica, are accurate.

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Along with the mass grave in Nova Kasaba, three other mass graves exist around Srebrenica, according to Muslim men who arrived recently in government-held territory. In their first interview with a journalist, six men gave detailed descriptions of a grave near the village of Cerska, one man described a grave near Burnice, and three others a grave site at Karakaj.

The senior UN officials say an overwhelming amount of physical evidence of what could be the single largest war crime in Europe since World War II lies along a 20-mile network of roads in eastern Bosnia. But with the Bosnian Serbs saying the graves are filled with Muslims who died in combat, exhuming the bodies to examine how the men died is crucial.

Zagreb-based UN officials are concerned that if more leverage is not brought to bear on the Bosnian Serbs by the Clinton administration, the execution of thousands of Muslims could go unpunished. In the two months since US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright made a dramatic and unusual presentation of classified US spy-satellite photos to the UN Security Council and accused Mladic of ''extraordinary cruelty,'' US officials have not publicly raised the issue.

UN officials in Zagreb warn that the Clinton administration is following a policy based more on political expediency than pursuing justice.

And the senior UN officials close to the Tribunal say that two months after Ms. Albright's presentation, the US government still has not turned over all of the photos it has of the Srebrenica area.

In August, senior US officials said they had more satellite photos that showed other graves, which along with the Nova Kasaba site could hold between 2,000 and 2,700 bodies.

US interest has waned

UN officials have long accused the Clinton administration of releasing the Nova Kasaba photos to deflect criticism from its tacit approval of the Croatian Army's forced removal of 150,000 Serbs from the formerly Serb-held Krajina region of Croatia in early August. The issue of Srebrenica has been dropped, they say, because it no longer fits the administration's agenda.

The issue of war crimes is a crucial one for the Bosnian government and could scuttle the US-brokered peace talks. The Muslim-led Bosnian government is demanding that accused war criminals be turned over to the Tribunal, and access to what the human rights group Amnesty International says are 143 mass graves in Serb territory, be part of any peace agreement.

But without US backing, the demand is unlikely to be met. UN officials predict that the Clinton administration will try to ignore the issue as it hammers out a de facto partition of the country.

Mladic and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic have both been indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, a man who critics say should also be indicted as a war criminal and has the power to turn over Mladic and Karadzic, is refusing to cooperate with the Tribunal.

The Bosnian Serbs deny that any mass executions occurred following the fall of Srebrenica, and human rights groups, and investigators from the Tribunal have been denied access to the area.

The Nova Kasaba grave, which is large enough to hold 600 to 800 bodies, lies at the center of a killing zone created by Bosnian Serb forces as they hunted down more than 10,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica, only half of whom were armed, who tried to sneak through 60 miles of Serb territory to government-held central Bosnia.

The grave is located along a four-mile stretch of asphalt road between the villages of Nova Kasaba to Konjevic Polje that Muslims had to cross to make it to government-held territory. Thousands of them never did.

The Bosnian Serbs placed armored personnel carriers and patrols all along the picturesque road, which follows the meandering Jadar River and lies in a small valley. Muslims easily could be seen trying to cross farm fields and clearings around dozens of burned Muslim homes.

New evidence, obtained through interviews with nine men who say they survived mass executions and others who arrived from Srebrenica over the last three weeks, confirms that the site is a mass grave. The evidence includes:

* Smail Hodjic, and another man taken to another location after Mladic spoke at the Nova Kasaba soccer field, say dozens of friends, relatives, and acquaintances from Srebrenica that they saw on the field on July 12 and 13 are now missing and presumed dead. The two men, who both survived a later mass execution near the town of Karakaj, say hundreds of men held at the soccer field were executed and buried in the nearby grave.

Both men who say they were at the soccer field gave correct, detailed descriptions of the soccer field, which was visited by the Monitor in August.

The men also accurately described the way prisoners and their Bosnian Serb guards were configured on the field according to the US spy-satellite photo taken on July 12 or 13. But US analysts estimated that there were only 600 prisoners in the field, not the 1,000 to 1,500 the two men say.

In separate interviews, both described Mladic addressing the prisoners at around 3 p.m. Mladic derided Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, told the prisoners they would not be harmed, and said they would soon be returned to their families.

According to a report released by UN investigators on Aug. 22, a peacekeeper and a woman from Srebrenica transitting the Nova Kasaba area saw hundreds of prisoners in the soccer field.

On the following day, July 15, another UN peacekeeper reported seeing shoes and rucksacks of 100 men on the soccer field and a tractor pulling a cart with corpses on it. Closer to the grave site, he saw another row of shoes, 20 to 40 people, and a truck carrying corpses, as well as an excavator.

* Another credible eyewitness, who was hiding in the woods in the area on July 14 and 15, reports seeing 40 Muslim prisoners being tortured and executed one mile north of the grave site. A truck was loaded with bodies and drove south toward the grave.

* Two documents found at the grave site by the Monitor last month have been identified by relatives and friends as belonging to two men from Srebrenica who are missing and presumed dead.

Dervis Smajic, the brother of Murat Smajic, a man whose 1982 elementary school certificate of merit was found only 50 feet from one of the mass graves, gasped when he was shown the document. ''He was carrying it with him for identification,'' stammered Mr. Smajic, who stared blankly at the certificate then quietly faded into a crowd of soldiers. ''My father and I were separated from him in an ambush.''

Photographs washed out by rain with handwritten Muslim names written on the back were found at the grave site, next to the certificate. Smajic, before being told that photographs had been found, stated that his brother was carrying family photos.

The other document found at the grave site, a piece of paper with handwritten notes on it found 200 feet from one of the graves, was identified by soldiers from the Srebrenica enclave as belonging to Mehmed Vejzovic, a man who is also missing.

The paper contains handwritten notes from a March 14, 1995, community meeting in the village of Potocari inside the former Srebrenica ''safe area.'' In another section of the paper are notes on how to load and use various weapons. Vejzovic, the soldiers said, was involved in civil defense in Potocari.

* Survivors of the execution also said a large number of prisoners were held overnight in the village of Bratunac on July 13. A small building on the grounds of the Bratunac soccer field filled with human feces, blood stains, bullet-pocked walls, and indications of torture discovered by the Monitor in August was only a few hundred yards from where prisoners were kept, according to the survivors. Small groups of men were taken away during the night, according to the survivors, and never returned.

* Rejha Gabeljic, a Muslim woman who crossed into government-held territory on Sep. 10, said that she had been released, but that nine Muslim men are being held in a forced labor camp in Milici.

There was no way to confirm her report. Bosnian Serbs interviewed by the Monitor in the Srebrenica area in August denied that Muslim prisoners were being held.

Eyewitnesses Confirm Massacres by Serbs.

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