THE Bosnian Serbs are pursuing new ethnic cleansing drives in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina in a show of defiance following their rejection of the five-power ``contact group'' peace plan.
Members of the contact group were meeting Sept. 6 and 7 in Berlin to discuss the possibility of easing sanctions on Serbian-led Yugoslavia to reward it for breaking with Bosnian Serbs.
Meanwhile, more than 2,500 Muslims, Croats, and Gypsies have been expelled from the areas of Banja Luka and Bijeljina in the last 10 days in what United Nations officials fear are final sweeps to oust all non-Serbs remaining in northern Bosnia.
Large numbers of non-Serb males rounded up in the sweeps have been incarcerated in forced labor camps, UN and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officials say.
The Bosnian Serb militaries conducting the drive have also seized huge amounts of cash, valuables, and real estate.
Yasushi Akashi, the special UN representative to former Yugoslavia, on Sept. 6 condemned the expulsions as ``a deliberate policy of rendering the area ethnically homogenous.''
Mr. Akashi said there were reports of severe human rights violations against non-Serbs in the areas where the expulsions were taking place, including ``torture, rape, and sexual assault.''
``This is basically state terrorism,'' says Peter Kessler, a UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman. ``You don't have that number of people moving without state organization.
``This is the final push to cleanse northern Bosnia,'' he adds.
Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation has called for urgent UN Security Council intervention.
``This is exactly what the world tolerated with Hitler,'' Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic said in a Monitor interview.
The new drive
All the Bosnian sides have conducted ethnic cleansing during the 29-month-old conflict. But the Bosnian Serbs have far exceeded their foes in scope and abuse.
Since the beginning of last week, almost 1,800 Muslims have been expelled from the Bijeljina area, more than 1,300 of them since Sept. 2 alone, UNHCR and ICRC officials say. They have all arrived in the Bosnian government stronghold of Tuzla.
This represents a massive increase in expulsions from Bijeljina. Less than 3,000 of the region's pre-war population of 30,000 Muslims are now estimated to remain there.
``The horrible thing that we have heard from people is that everyone [non-Serbs] has to be out by Sept. 8,'' says Lisa Jones, an ICRC spokeswoman. ``We are very concerned there will be more large groups coming from Bijeljina.''
The expulsions are being overseen by Vojkan Djurkovic, a self-styled major in a paramilitary band led by suspected war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic.
The Bosnian Serb leadership has given Mr. Djurkovic a veneer of legitimacy by naming him head of Bijeljina's State Commission for Civilian Population Exchanges, which operates from a storefront.
``These commissions operate as rackets sanctioned by the authorities,'' Mr. Kessler says.
UNHCR and ICRC officials, quoting Muslims arriving in Tuzla, say Djurkovic and his thugs turn up at victims' homes at night and give them five minutes to pack. They extort up to 2,000 German marks (US$1,300) from men for transportation fees, and 200 marks are levied for each woman and child.
Those expelled are herded together at Bijeljina's train station or a local high school, where Djurkovic and his gang rob them of cash, jewelry, and other valuables, the officials say.
Buses and trucks then take them to the front lines north of Tuzla. Women, children, and the elderly are forced to walk across a mine-strewn no man's land to Bosnian Army positions.
Military-aged men are separated from their families and taken to forced labor camps, the most notorious of which is at Lopare, about 13 miles northeast of Tuzla. The number of prisoners and the conditions in which they are held are unknown because the Bosnian Serbs have repeatedly refused the ICRC access to Lopare.
Many of the latest expellees are from Janja, an almost entirely Muslim village just outside Bijeljina that Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic once promised would be left in peace.
The Sarajevo-based daily newspaper, Oslobodjenje, quoted refugees who arrived in Tuzla on Sept. 3 as saying that Djurkovic had told them that all but 500 non-Serbs would be driven out of the Bijeljina area by Sept. 10.
Djurkovic first gained prominence when he began expelling small groups of Muslims and Croats from Bijeljina last summer. In a Monitor interview at that time, he claimed he was an official conduit through whom people agreed voluntarily to swap homes with Serbs in Tuzla.
But local resentment over his violent activities, fueled by media attention, built up until Bijeljina police last September arrested Djurkovic, beat him up, and drove him across the border to Serbia.
Kessler says Djurkovic's reemergence could only have been authorized at the highest levels of the Bosnian Serb leadership.
The Banja Luka region, meanwhile, has seen since Aug. 1 the expulsions of more than 2,000 people, about half in the last 10 days alone, UN officials say.
The expellees - mostly Muslims and some Croats - have been driven into Croatia or pushed across front lines into a Bosnian government-held area of central Bosnia.
The Bosnian government estimates that only about 8,000 Muslims and Croats of Banja Luka's prewar non-Serb population of 78,000 remain there.