Quest Launched for Reporter's Freedom as He Paces Behind Bars in Bosnian Serb Jail
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This was bad. Rohde had thought he would spend one more night in custody, at most, and then fulfill his dream of freedom, driving back across the Drina.Skip to next paragraph
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''And all his personal possessions will be seized by the court,'' added the judge.
This was more than bad. What would he do about the car? It was a rental, a 1994 Citroen from an Austrian agency. The insurance wouldn't cover a car lost in Bosnia. Somebody would have to pay for it, and the Monitor journalist figured it would be him. He'd be the laughing stock of the Bosnia press corps.
The prison was an hour north of Zvornik, on the grounds of an old factory in the city of Bijeljina. It was surrounded by a 10-foot wall of red cinder block, and as Rohde was ushered through its gates on Friday evening, he could see lit windows, bars, and group cells within.
The attitude of his guards, upon arrival, was a mixture of hostility and excitement. They couldn't believe they had an American.
As a political test, they asked him, ''What is the Drina River the border between?'' The correct answer, in their eyes, was ''The Republica Srpska and Serbia,'' not ''Bosnia and Serbia,'' as the rest of the world would answer.
They collected the journalist's possessions, giving him meticulous receipts. Such record-keeping was important to Bosnian Serb officials, Rohde had noticed. It was part of their obsession with respect for ''Srpskan'' law.
His cramped cell was about 10 feet by 20 feet, with six bunks and a heater in the corner. One bunk - his - was empty.
During Rohde's introduction, the cell ''director,'' a man named Slavko, who had been a director of a failed bank, got up and began to put extra blankets on the empty bed.
Happy that his family knew he was alive, Rohde began to think that prison might not be as bad as he had pictured it.
Room with a crew
His cellmates seemed sympathetic. Besides Slavko, there was Zenga, a young thief who'd been caught stealing crates of cigarettes; and Milan, a military policeman who had shot a man who attacked him with a knife after a traffic accident.
The man with a smuggled-in shortwave radio was in prison for doctoring a friend's car-ownership papers. The fifth and youngest member of the group was half-Serb and half-
Muslim, 18 years old. He'd been arrested for possession of 300 marijuana cigarettes and was a big fan of the rock group Pink Floyd.
In the days to come it would become clear that for Rohde, the problem with prison was the inactivity. The nervous reporter needed something to do with his energy; he was the kind of person who measured rooms not so much in feet as in paces.
But prisoners were allowed outside for exercise only 30 minutes a day. It was perhaps the fastest 30 minutes Rohde had ever experienced in his life.
And the food - liquid with rice mush, liquid with bean mush, liquid with potato mush - was awful. Rohde became convinced that the prisoner's leftovers, dumped into a large bucket, were fed directly to pigs.
Boston goes to Dayton
By now the Monitor's phone lines in Boston were jammed with calls about Rohde. Faye Bowers, David's editor, plus the international editor, Clayton Jones, and senior editors, kept in touch with the UN, the State Department in Washington, and individual US embassies overseas. Meanwhile, the media continued clamoring for information.
Rohde's family was set up in an office just off the newsroom, making calls to their political contacts and anyone else they felt would pay attention or could be useful. The problem was that the ad hoc David Rohde Action Team continually received conflicting information.
The UN said the Bosnian Serbs had David; the State Department wasn't sure. No one had seen David, or talked to him, or had any confirmation about his fate.
Late Friday afternoon, during a strategy session held in Editor David Cook's office, it was decided that Jones, Bowers, elder brother Lee Rohde, and other family members should fly to the Bosnian peace talks being held at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just outside Dayton, Ohio. Proximity might make it easier to meet with - and pressure - the top US officials who dealt with the Balkans. Bosnian Serb officials were in Dayton as well.
If their efforts failed, the family could always hold a press conference outside the peace talk gates, ratcheting up media attention.