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Bosnian Serb Officials Hold and Interrogate Monitor Reporter

(Page 2 of 4)

"I'm a journalist, I'm a journalist," he insisted. "I'm just trying to take pictures of this beautiful lake and mountain."

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A half hour later, the police roared up, three of them. Rohde thought that maybe this was a good sign. The first 15 minutes is the most dangerous time for Western journalists taken in the world's war zones; once they're delivered to higher-ups, they generally survive. Then the cops spotted Rohde's jacket, borrowed from a friend in Sarajevo. Those small, pointed objects in a pocket on the sleeve - were they bullets? They grabbed the journalist's arm and began forcing the objects out, as if they were secret weapons.

"They're pen caps! They're pen caps!" said Rohde. The police laughed.

'How stupid do you think Serbian people are?'

Marko looked at the American in front of him and laughed. "How stupid do you think Serbian people are?" he asked.

The radio played its Serbian music softly in the background while David Rohde's confidence collapsed. He'd developed, he thought, a kind of camaraderie with the cops who had brought him to this police station in nearby Zvornik. After the shock of capture wore off, they had seemed to believe he was nothing but a stupid American sizing up the reddish, pollution-tinged lake behind the dam. But they had not let him go, and now this man in a worn leather jacket and nondescript pants was waving away his story like so much smoke.

His name was Marko, and he seemed to be the station's second in command. Unfortunately, he also seemed to be a skilled investigator.

Communist leftovers

The room was an artifact from the communist era. A filing cabinet still bore a label listing it as the property of the prewar Tito regime. The door was padded, a favorite sound-deadening technique of communist secret police. Eventually the pattern of tacks holding the padding burned itself into Rohde's memory.

Marko began to pick Rohde's story apart. If he was a photographer, why did he have the detailed maps? What did the marks on the maps mean? Why did he have tattered identity papers from Muslim refugees? Why were those papers hidden in the pages of his rental car manual? What was on his cassette tapes?

Someone listened to the tapes. A guard came into the room - "Just music, just music," he said. That was the last the reporter saw of his Walkman, and his recordings - bands like Green Day and Cowboy Junkies. Perhaps xylophone music was not every Serb's favorite.

Still, Rohde did not break until they were leaving for the night. He was to go to a local hotel; Marko would hold his car and his passport. As he rose, Marko said "We will develop the film tonight, and we will see, Mr. David, what you have been doing."

There were no lake pictures on the film. Instead, there were shots of abandoned shoes, clothing, and the sad detritus of massacre sites. These pictures, developed, would prove Rohde had been lying. At the top of the stairs, he pulled Marko aside and admitted that he had been searching for mass graves.

"All right, you're still going to the hotel," Marko said, "but I want you to write out for me where you went and what you saw. Most of all, I want you to write down the names of the Muslims who told you about these massacres - and where are they now."

A four-star meal?

The hotel wasn't bad, considering what Rohde had expected. Marko allowed him dinner in the dining room, almost as if he were a tourist. But that night he couldn't sleep. He considered fleeing through the window and making for the river. But it was cold, and Rohde still hoped the whole incident would somehow be dismissed and he could drive across the bridge over the Drina tomorrow, a free man.

He wrote out his statement at 3 in the morning. It was a careful concoction of half-truths designed to protect his sources and himself. He made up names for Bosnian Muslims who had helped him; the rest of his cover story was that he had learned the positions of massacre sites openly, at the end of a US official's press conference. But it was the statement's first line that got him in trouble: "I changed the date on my press accreditation."