BOSNIAN Serb forces may have poisoned local water supplies to help capture Muslim men fleeing Srebrenica last July, according to credible eyewitness accounts obtained by The Christian Science Monitor.
Seven Muslim men from the fallen UN ''safe area'' said they became temporarily deranged or saw groups of men become deranged after they drank water from a stream near the town of Konjevic Polje.
Senior UN military officials said Serb forces have poisoned wells in the past, and diluted poisons could produce such effects. But they are skeptical that poison was used.
''We've had a number of reports of the Serbs using chemical weapons, but it's always been unproven,'' says a UN official, ''although contaminating small amounts of water is possible.''
The accounts, all given in separate interviews, were similar and all happened in the area around Konjevic Polje.
One Muslim man, who investigators at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague believe is credible, said that just before he was captured near Konjevic Polje, shells fired by Bosnian Serb forces produced no shrapnel and created a dark cloud. At about the same time, he said he drank a large amount of water and began to hallucinate.
''I had just drank from a stream. It was small, one I could just step over, but suddenly it seemed enormous to me, like an ocean. I was too frightened to cross it,'' the man said in his first interview with a journalist. ''Later when they [the Bosnian Serbs] beat me, I didn't feel anything. It was like my body wasn't part of me.''
The man, who asked not to be named because he fears Bosnian Serb retribution against missing relatives, described being unable to coordinate or control his movements after the shells hit and he drank from the stream.
Two Muslim officers, one soldier, and two civilians all described similar events near Konjevic Polje, the location of a Bosnian Serb military barracks and a critical junction of an asphalt road Muslims had to cross to make it to government territory.
The men said they felt confused and passive and believed the drug was designed to get them to surrender. None reported losing consciousness or being unable to breathe after the shells struck or after drinking the stream water.
Bosnian soldiers have said in previous press reports and interviews that Bosnian Serb soldiers dressed as civilians infiltrated the column of fleeing Muslims, tried to lead them toward Serb forces, and gave them water laced with a drug that disoriented them.
One Bosnian soldier knelt down to drink from a stream where no stream existed and stuck his face into dirt, according to the Muslim man who asked not to be named. Two officers said another man hallucinated that he was watching TV as he walked through the woods, but later recovered.
ANOTHER man was seen standing in the woods slowly undressing. When asked what he was doing, as gunfire echoed off nearby hills, the man said he was ready for bed and waiting for his mother to tuck him in.
Mevludin Oric, who tribunal investigators believe is one of the most credible survivors of a mass execution, said he met a small group of deranged Muslims on a hill near Konjevic Polje just after it had been shelled by the Bosnian Serbs.
''The Chetniks [Serb soldiers] must have used poison gas, because they were all acting completely crazy and threatening people,'' Mr. Oric says. ''One young man who lost control at that time is acting normal now. He has no idea what happened to him.''