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Bosnian Serb Officials Hold and Interrogate Monitor Reporter

(Page 3 of 4)

He'd altered his press pass in the first place because it was unthinkable that the Bosnian Serbs would openly allow him on their territory. They had blocked all free access to the area around Srebrenica since it fell in July. Rohde had already found one possible massacre site, near the village of Nova Kosaba, in August. His story about it had earned him many enemies in Pale, the Bosnian Serbs headquarters 13 miles from Sarajevo. He admitted the forgery because he figured it was likely that Marko would call the press officials in Pale. If he admitted the truth, he didn't think the altered dates would be as large a problem.

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He was wrong.

On Tuesday Marko took one look at the statement, and the espionage theme began. Only a CIA agent would forge documents in such a manner. Only a CIA agent would have Rohde's map; only a CIA agent would be able to read it.

The Monitor journalist laughed. "What, the CIA is going to send in an American in daylight, in a car with Austrian plates, a guy who doesn't speak any Serbian?" he asked.

It made no impression. First Marko said Rohde was CIA. Next, he was on a mission from the Muslims to blow up the dam and flood the area with polluted water. Finally, he was a NATO officer, perhaps mapping the dam as a prelude to its destruction by a bomb.

Rohde argued the truth: He was a journalist in search of evidence of war crimes. When he'd set out from Sarajevo on his clandestine mission, barely 24 hours earlier, he'd thought that if his real identity and purpose were discovered he would be instantly shot. Instead Marko was looking for a larger conspiracy.

Near the end of the day a balding guard leaned in Rohde's direction. He spoke a little English. "Spying is a crime. Spying is a crime," he said, shaking his head. "You're going to jail for 10 years."

No sleep

As time passed, Rohde decided that his guards were an accurate cross-section of Bosnian Serb males. A majority were normal and almost friendly. They assured him he would eventually be released, let him watch dubbed 1970s Bill Cosby movies on TV in the station chief's office, and worried whether he was cold. A minority of guards were hostile. A few - the young, balding guard among them - seemed to enjoy taunting him.

Early Monday evening, Marko turned to Rohde as he left for the day and said, "We shall see, Mr. David. We shall see."

Minutes later, the balding guard told Rohde, "You are not going to sleep tonight." He didn't smile.

At first the American thought he was kidding. Late that night, after losing three straight games of chess, Rohde was sitting in a chair in the office, his head beginning to nod. "Sit up!" the bald guard growled. "You're not going to sleep."

The guard stood behind Rohde's chair, playing with a pair of handcuffs. "Spying is a crime," he said.

Rohde blew up. He loosed a stream of sarcasm in English - "Duh, like I'm really a spy, I just drive in from Vienna in my foreign rental car, duh." His guards just looked at each other. The balding one ordered: "Stand up."

They made him stand in the middle of the room through the night, staring at the floor. At four in the morning, the shift changed. Friendlier guards arrived. They let Rohde sleep, but only for two precious hours. Soon the interrogation started all over again.

All day Tuesday Marko picked again at Rohde's story. He was forced to cycle through his statement over and over, from memory, desperately trying to remember the names he'd made up. Numb with fatigue, he began to stumble.

"You have one hour, Mr. David," Marko said that afternoon, "to answer the three important questions: What is your rank? Who is your commander in the CIA? And what is your mission?"