The Crisis in Bosnia-Two Articles: An Election Observer's Journal


THE CRISIS IN BOSNIA-2 An Election Observer's Journal BY NIGEL PURVIS To help assure that the elections in Bosnia this past September 14 complied with the terms of the Dayton Agreement, the...

...THE CRISIS IN BOSNIA-2 An Election Observer's Journal BY NIGEL PURVIS To help assure that the elections in Bosnia this past September 14 complied with the terms of the Dayton Agreement, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) assembled 1,000 observers from several dozen coun-tries One of them was Nigel Purvis, a State Department lawyer He was a member of the 40-person team assigned to the Prijedor (pronounced pree-i-dor) political district in the northwestern corner of the Republika Srpska, the Serb contr olled entity that makes up 49 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina Following are excerpts from a journal Purvis kept The views expressed are of course his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U S government —Ed Thursday, September 12 After a rapid descent through dense, low-lying morning clouds, the Italian C-130 makes an in-strumentless landing at Banja Luka's single-strip airport Standing on the tarmac, I and my fellow observers headed for Prijedor spot Canadian troops loading three other military transport planes The Italians and Canadians are part of the 50,000-strong nato-led multinational Peace Implementation Force (ifor) keeping the warring factions in Bosnia and Herzegovina separated Armored vehicles escort us to the nearby British-commanded base that serves as headquarters for one of ifor's three divisions It has begun to rain We are motioned into a large abandoned steel fac-tory inside the base and offered tea Before a series of briefings begin, a British colonel welcomes us and volunteers some advice "Observe carefully," he counsels "Nothing is as it seems in Bosnia " In the first briefing, entitled "Mine Awareness,' we are instructed that "Bos-nia is a mine-rich environment with an unexploded ordnance problem 'The British officer speaking to us projects a map of Bosnia onto a screen Pink dots indicate the location of known minefields To the south and west of Prijedor, and along the rest of the former confrontation lines, the map is solid pink ' May I suggest you remain on hard standing," he admonishes To reinforce the message, we are escorted outside in the now heavy rain to a training field A staff sergeant detonates two grams of explosives (a small fraction of what is found in a real antipersonnel mine) inside a combat boot The boot disappears We head back inside the factory feeling mine aware' Another briefing, by a Canadian officer, concerns election day security Ordinary communication between observers and ifor will prove impossible we are told The phones in rural Bosnia do not work and the OSCE has decided not to equip us with two-way radios because thev are expensive and ineffective in Bosnia's mountainous terrain Instead, each of us is given a neon orange piece of paper, described as an "emergency communication device When in trouble, we are to wave it at any passing ifor vehicle They will be patrolling the vari-ous "hot spots," we are assured Given the predictions of election day violence we are not comforted by the arrangements—or by the chicken noodle soup that is handed out, along with 15 different military maps of the Prijedor region By mid afternoon we arrive at our destination, the Hotel Prijedor, where we establish our base A 10-story glass structuie built in the 1970s, it is about twice as tall as the surrounding buildings and the only vaguely modern hotel in town Prijedor itself is the Repubhka Srpska's second largest city and the political district's regional capital Prior to 1992 it was a predominantly Serb metropolis surrounded by Muslim villages, with the total combined population hovering somewhere around 120,000 Durmg the civil war the Serbs, spurred by Belgrade's nationalist rhetoric and supported by the Yugoslav People's Army, ruthlessly leveled Muslim and Croat houses, rounded up their inhabitants and interned them in concentiation camps In what became known as ethnic cleansing, ' they also raped, brutally tortured and mui dered in a systematic attempt to force the Muslims and Croats out of the entirearea Over 50 000 locals fled, so did tens of thousands more from neighboring communities As Septembei 14 approaches, those responsible for the atrocities are still in control Police Chief Simo Drljaca is said by human rights groups to head an organized crime outfit and to employ secret police units to intimidate tortuie and kill anyone opposing his policies [On September 20 international pressure would bnng about his reassignment," but he is believed to retain his power] A senior Bosnia expert for a leadmg Amencan human rights group has named Drljaca and Zeljko Raznatovic, a Federal Republic of Yugoslavia citizen better known as Ar-kan as two individuals clearly indictable for war crimes Arkan commanded a para-military force in and aiound the Prijedor district throughout the war His mercenar-ies are widely thought to have waged a particularly brutal terror campaign (even by Balkan standards) between 1992 and 1995 Nevertheless he has formed his own ultranationahst Serb Unity Party, which has put up a slate of candidates for the elections we have come to observe Late in the afternoon the OSCE regional coordinator, a German named Hans who has been in the region for just two weeks, divides us into pairs My partner, Beth Bobuig—a woman in hei mid-20s from the State Department's human rights bureau—is the only other American in the Prijedor gioup Hans passes out T-shirts and baseball hats imprinted with a black, blue and orange tree "Students in Sarajevo created the design on them," he says "It represents the tree of democracy Its leaves look like eyes They are watching 'They are ugly Befhwondeis if we have to weai them, others do too Beth and I are introduced to Damjel, who will serve as our interpreter, and Rade, who will be our driver Both are 22-year-old Serbs, soft-spoken and polite Damjel seems delighted to learn we are Americans, and wants to know if we have seen the summer blockbuster movie The Rock Until recently the two fi lends were in the same antiaircraft unit in the Bosnian Serb Army Each day, Damjel says, they would climb to the top of a high mountain ridge canying Stinger-style shoulder-fired missiles, and watch for Croatian, Muslim or nato planes He quickly assures us that m three years he never fired his weapon "Not even for practice It's too expensive' Rade grew up 15 miles away in the neighboring town of Sanski Most, which fell in the final months of the war to the armies of the Muslim-Croat Federation Along with 10,000 other Serbs, Rade and his family fled to Prijedor The apple of his eye is the 1987 Volkswagen Golf he purchased after leaving Sanski Most It was a good deal, he says, because it came fiom Sarajevo I don't ask about the circumstances under which the ongrnal owner gave up possession We end the evening with dinner at a modest restaurant At my request, Damjel orders the food He selects a Serbian specialty—tenderized veal, lolled like a burnto, stuffed with ci earn cheese and deep fried He tells us Simo Drljaca owns the lestaurant Friday, September 13 The eight polling stations Beth and I volunteer to monitor lie southwest of Prijedor, inside the demilitarized Zone of Separation (ZoS) that runs along the Interentity Boundary Line (IEBL) dividingthe Repubhka Srpska from the Muslim-Croat Federation We plan to familiarize ourselves with them today A look at the ifor mine awareness map shows two can be reached from a main road, the i est require travel on minor dirt roads that are solid pink No mine-fiee appioach is identified For most of election day, therefore, we will be several miles from the nearest ifor vehicle, since they will be confined largely to the main loads The advice yesterday to remain on "hard standing" and patrolled roads turns out to be incompatible with the observer mission Our first stop is Bosanski Novi, renamed Novigrad by the Serbs because they thought "Bosanski" was "too Mushm " Now usually called "Novi" to avoid confusion and conflict, it was an ethnically mixed town of 42,000 before the war resulted in the departure of roughly 14,000 Muslims Political posters fea-tuimg color portraits of different candidates appear to be everywhere They were produced with money provided by the OSCE, which gave campaign funds to every party able to demonstrate a minimum standard of support All the posters seem to trumpet Seib nationalist organizations Many champion ultranationahst parties urging full integration with Serbia The greatest number promote Srpska's ruling Serb Democratic Party (SDS)—headed until recently by indicted war criminal and one-time Sarajevo psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic Damjel tells me the SDS faithful have tom down orpapered over advertisements for more moderate candidates Posters for Arkan's Serb Unity Party probably run second to those of the SDS The Bosnian Serbs I speak to, though, predict the Serb Unity slate will receive few votes They say Arkan used his wartime power for personal profit and terrorized them almost as much as he did the Muslims Also appearing in shop windows are several pictures of Radovan Karadzic (referred to in public as Dr K by international types wishing to avoid attracting attention) This is in open violation of election rules forbidding political images of indicted war criminals I take several photos, then shelter my camera in my coat to protect it from the steady rain Simo Drl-jaca's police officers, wearing blue camouflage uniforms, beckon me toward them I approach and present my OSCE identification with a forced smile They wave me away International media reports have indicated that Srpska's authorities instructed their security forces not to interfere with the elections My encounter, I mink to myself, is confirmation Rade and Danuel are unfamiliar with the roads to the rural villages we must visit, but Rade follows his instincts and trails behind others who know the areas near the old confrontation lines The rough dirt roads rise and fall with the lines of the smooth clay hills As we come to within two miles of the IEBL, small black conic haystacks dot f lelds of overgrown kelly green clover Nestled beside them aie modest red brick faim houses, largely untouched by the war Historically Serbs farmed this land, and they controlled it throughout most of the fighting The haystacks have blackened from age, Damjel explains The farmers, not rich to start with, slaughtered their livestock foi food or money during the war Some haystacks were unused for months because residents fled to escape the advancing Muslim-Croat Federation forces Others lie in minefields Damjel tells us the clover makes excellent cover Forty minutes off the mam road Rade recognizes the landscape He and Damjel were stationed here in 1995 They show us the house where their unit slept in the closing days of the war Those were not happy times, Rade says He seems distressed to have returned We leave the car near three houses that Rade identifies as the heartof the village called Dren It is a five-minute walk on a horse path to the local polling station at a nearby farm The family appears very pleased to have company at their modest house Several middle-aged women smile from the porch An elderly man identifies himself as the father of the local election official While offering coffee and homemade shvovitz (plum brandy) he asks whether we are affiliated with ifor He believes it is supervising the elections The son arrives He explains that 200 Serbs are expected to vote at his home They will tiavel by horse and foot from miles away Signs piovidedby the OSCE to dnect them fiom the i oad to the polling station hang instead on the living room wall, to direct the flow around the room They are not needed outside, the son says proudly, for everyone in the area knows the elections are at his house He and his fathei fill the pockets of their departing visitois with fresh walnuts One of our eight sites, located in the small village of Blatna, has been designated by local Serb election officials as a "lecommend-ed" polling station for those crossing the IEBL to cast their ballots The Dayton agreement permits people to vote where they lived before the war According to seemingly reliable estimates, on election day some 125,000 will exeicise the right To head off trouble, ifor has designated a number of the major roads throughout Bosnia as preferred routes for the travelers It has announced that it will patrol them with a robust force and escort vehicles of eight or more voters Blatna is on one of the two preferred routes in the Prijedor distnct Local officials estimate that aiound 4,000 people from the Muslim-Croat Federation will come here to vote, with another 6,000 passing by on their way to a second "recommended" site in the district Almost all are expected to be Muslims evicted from then homes during the war The schoolhouse that will be Blatna's polling station has suffered considerable damage Its outer walls are bullet pocked Thick plastic covers its shattered windows Hanging from a nearby building, m full view, is an enoimous Mao-style painting of Dr K Inside the school more bullet holes scar the walls On one there are faded yet unmistakable bloodstains Burnt crimson handprints, a shoulder width apart, streak dramatically towaid the floor from about chest height The polling station chairman appears agitated at having mternational visitors An OSCE election supervisor obsenes that the station's relatively large size and distance from the main road will make security a challenge Driving back to Prijedor, I think about the atrocities that probably were committed at the school and fret about the safety of the Muslim voters tomorrow Saturday, September 14 It is election day We get up at 4 15 am and set out immediately (sans T-shirts and hats) to reach as many polling stations as possible before they open at 700am A clammy fog envelops the dark landscape Even Rade drives slowly On the loadto Novi we pass several ifor tank columns At daybreak the voting gets under way All signs point to a quiet, orderly day in the Seib-dommated villages People file around the polling stations in precise-ly the manner dictated by the election rules—showing identification, marking ballots behind cardboard screens supplied by the OSCE, placing them m the sealed boxes it distributed Poll watchers from the competing political parties assure the impartiality of the proceduie In general, community election officials try to stay neuti al They seek and accept advice about election rule technicalities from OSCE supervisors and observers The population mostly honors the rules barring alcohol No political posters appear within sight of a polling station, except for paintings of Dr K Local police and secunty officers stand outside the stations in reasonable numbers Some lriegulanties, to be sure, are visible About half the rural population is illiterate or cannot afford needed eyeglasses Inevitably, such individuals cannot mark their ballots in seciecy Moie senously, 5 to 10 per cent of the longtime residents in each village do not appear on the final OSCE-produced voter registration list because of a massive computer en or Those affected cannot vote without obtaining a special form in Novi, but the trip there is impracticable for these rural villagers so they quietly accept dis-enfranchisement Perhaps most distressing is a circumstance that seems ripe for undetectable fraud Thousands of missing persons remain on the voterrolls Using theirnames, people lacking Bosnian citizenship?from Seibia and Cioatian Krajina—can easily vote illicitly They need simply show up with' two reputable individuals" willing to confirm their false identity "If the dead vote," an OSCE elections advisei quips, "they will do so just once " He is refernng to the fact that everyone casting a ballot has his or her i ight index fingei maiked with a semipennanent invisible ink Yet this points up another problem A single worker at the dooi of every polling station checks for the ink with a blue light, while a second checks identification papers Dishonesty on the part of either impressive force for the fust time I decide not to ruin the excitement by mentioning that Dien is neither a "hot spot" noi on aprefenedroute A local official explains why no political party representatives are present at the polls "The entire village supports the ruling SDS party All the families have agreed " No Muslims or Croats live here anymore In Blatna, where the 4,000 displaced persons are expected to vote, two ifor armored vehicles have lodged themselves m a cornfield 100 yards from the school-house and a Czech platoon is on hand In addition, two dozen of Simo Drlj aca's uniformed police mill about or chat with 10 young men who appear to be Serb plainwould lesult in double voting and/or voting with phony credentials To complicate matters, the OSCE has allowed Re-publika Srpska authorities to appoint then nationalist cronies to eveiy position on the local election commissions and polling station committees As for the international observer teams, their unfa-miliarity with the language and 1 8 ratio to polling stations severely limits them In Dren, far from the ZoS, the entire village has turned out by 10 00 a m , gi wng the place the feel of a country fair Damjel thinks that for these people the election is the most interesting thing that has happened since the fighting ended last December They ask when ifor troops will arrive, eager to see that clothes police By 11 30 am no Muslims or Croats have arrived Soon afterward passing international police monitors announce that buses are on their way Everyone waits Around 2 00 p m two buses arrive at high speed, escorted by two ifor jeeps International police monitors, local police and United Nations refugee agency per sonnel follow in four-wheel drive vehicles The convoy includes crews from Britain's Independent Television News and the SDS-controlled Sipska television station A mere 53 frightened, brave souls disembark from the buses The older ones wear traditional Muslim berets and head scarves For a moment, everyone freezes At the urging of election officials, the voters head for the schoolhouse with their international escorts close behind Inside the Muslims receive the same treatment as Serbs After the first few vote without incident, a middle-aged Muslim man unable to read the small print on the ballots casually asks to borrow the eyeglasses of a Serb polling station committee member The Serb hands them over unhesitatingly and with a genuine smile, the Muslim votes and returns the glasses with an appreciative grin The interaction seems to belie the intractable ethnic hatred purportedly at the heart of the armed conflict Minutes later several Muslims standing at the identification desk start shouting Errors in the OSCE voter list have forced the Serb polling station chairman to bar seven Muslims from voting in Blatna They accuse him of manipulating the list The two groups call each othernames International supervisors and observers are unable to convince the voters that the Serbs are not to blame No one seems to notice the bloody, bullet-riddled walls In interviews at the schoolhouse exit the Muslims all say they are from Novi Those who voted feel the process was technically fair Those who did not are bitter None have any mtention of returning to their former homes They simply wanted to see for themselves that the fighting had really stopped on this side of the IEBL They express no wish to have their trip here interpreted as a political statement against Serb control of the area Leaving, they pass through the Serb crowd without incident, board the buses and speed away with their international convoy Again everyone waits, but no cars or other buses from the Federation appear At430PM I am standing at the IEBL although it took me 10 minutes to convince Damjel and Rade it was safe to drive the one mile here from Blatna Only a six-foot-tall orange ifor surveyor's post marks the border International police monitors, flanked by Srpska and Federation pohcejust out of earshot of each other, are parked near the post The international police say they have heard that due to a lack of voter interest no more buses will cross the IEBL at Blatna today They also report that the Muslim-controlled radio station has broadcast erroneous reports about Serb crowds blocking the load to Blatna When I inquire whether voters have come in private cars, the international police tell me they have turned away about a dozen cars I ask on what authonty All three police forces confirm that they leceived orders from unnamed supenois to deny automobiles entry or exit So much for freedom of movement on election day Late in the evening we accompany the ballot boxes to the regional vote counting center in Novi There they will remain under guard until the tallying is finished The Serb election officials on duty check the paperwork of each polling station chief for accuracy Rade returns us to the Hotel Prijedor around midnight Sunday, September 15 By one o'clock in the afternoon Hans has concluded the postelection debnef ing of the 40 Prijedor observers The consensus among us was that no major irregularities occurred in our districts The errors in the OSCE's final list of voters emerged as the biggest problem, and we were troubled that so few voters crossed the IEBL to vote in the region International news reports on the satellite television in the hotel bar, though, keep alive my fears about some level of electoral fraud in Bosnia They claim the turnout exceeded 100 per cent of eligible voters But my part in the observer mission is over Beth will stay anotherweekto watch the count I will spend the rest of the day tracing the history of the bloody Bosnian conflict with Damjel and Rade, who are waiting for me in the lobby We start our tnp heading north, toward a high mountain ridge the locals call Kozara (pronounced koz-urah) It was from there, throughout World War II, that Tito's (mostly Serb) Partisans fought against the Croatian Ustashe (Insurrectionist) puppet government installed by the Nazis As we progress slowly up the steep road, Damjel reminds me that far more Serbs died during World War II at the hands of Croats and Muslims than at the hands of Germans Twenty minutes later we park the car to climb several hundred concrete steps to the ndge An open field affords a clear view of Pryedoi and Muslim held mountains farther to the south At the center of the field stands a 100-foot concrete tower, surrounded by a dozen huge cement slabs engraved with the names of Partisans from the Prijedor district who died fighting the Fascists Damjel voices the complaint frequently heard here that the West has abandoned its old Serb allies in favor of Muslims and Croats who fought with Hitler Back at the base of Kozara we pass the charred lemains of several thousand homes, the only visible reminder of a Muslim town called Kozarac (pronounced koz-uhratz) The utter destruction brings to mind photos of Nagasaki the day after the atomic blast The fate of the 27,000 inhabitants m the area has been well documented by UN experts andjournahsts through hundreds of independent interviews with survivors Prior to mid-May 1992 Serb paramilitary groups attacked a number of Kozarac leaders and their families—often raping the women, beating the men and murder-ing in the process But despite the brutality of the terror campaign, few residents of Kozarac could have anticipated what was to come On May 24 the Serbs began their systematic drive to obtain absolute control over northwestern Bosnia Assisted by members of the Yugoslav People s Army they mercilessly shelled civilian homes in kozarac and adjacent smallei villages for more than 24 hours from close-range positions on the main road between Prijedor and Banja Luka Untold numbets were killed Serb infantry then easily overran the town Going house to house, the soldiers forced everyone alive into the streets Some men of fighting age were lined up and gunned down Others were forced to kneel while the Serbs slit their throats Still others weie herded into holding areas to await future ill treatment Women and children weie taken away at gunpoint I ask Rade to stop the car alongside the crumbling frame of the town's main mosque Across the way, in a small Muslim cemetery, simple gravestones have already been dislodged by overgiown grass Several seemingly uninhabitable structuies nearby, 1 notice, are occupied by Serb lefugees who escaped from the Croatian Kraj ina in late 1995 as the ad-vancing Croatian Army was about to recapture it The shell of every house in sight is marked with an X in a en cle a foot in diameter The symbol, Damjel says, was used by the Serbs to signify that the house had been conquered We move on in silence Near the center of KozaraC, Rade stops at the one undamaged home we have seen It is large, with a cafe on the first floor Visibly poor people—more Serb refugees from Croatia—loiter inside without food or drink The owner, Danijel informs me, is Dusan Tadic, the indicted war crimi-nal on trial in the Hague for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and other violations of international law That his is the town's lone intact house reaffirms my perception of the credibility of the evidence against Tadic I discuss the assaults on the town with my companions Danijel maintains that the Serbs were provoked by attacks against them in neighboring communities He further argues that the Muslims had exhibited their intention to drive the Serbs from Prijedor by blocking their travel on the road to Banja Luka and other Serb areas m Bosnia But through the spring and summer of 1992 the Serbs repeated then pattern of terror, attack and conquest against Muslim villages, and this had its intended effect According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Muslims fled, leaving northwestein Bosnia firmly in Serb hands The Serbs also captured thousands of men, women and children and interned them in makeshift concentration camps The largest and most infamous of these was located in Omarska, seven miles from Prijedor's city center Damjel says he and Rade do not know the location of the Omarska camp For the fust time I'm not sure whether to believe the sincenty of my Serb friends Yet without apparent reluctance, Rade dnves us toward Omarska I remain silent, confident that the geography of the small place will lead us to the site On the way, I suggest terms for the visit—no photos or questioning of locals The lules seem necessaiy to avoid attracting unwanted attention, and to protect Danijel and Rade from hostile questioning by security forces after my departure As we reach Omarska Danijel says, 'The people feel ashamed "I ask whether those who have reason to be ashamed de-sen e protection from scrutiny He shakes his head silently m a manner that indicates only partial agreement In my mind I hear him saying what I have felt from many of the Serbs with whom I have spoken in Prijedor Do not be so quick to judge You an American, do not understand us You cannot know what life was like hei e You cannot feel the weight of out histoi V You do not know what was necessaiy to sw vive After a minute of reflection, Damjel declares in a quiet but resolute voice that the behavior of ordinary people (the residents of Omarska, foot soldiers such as he and Rade) during the fighting was more ambiguous than the international community understands Most Serbs did not commit war crimes They did not want war, but it found them nonetheless and they had to follow their leaders to survive An old rail line runs along the flat southern outskirts of the town, where a large industrial zone is located Rade stops at the big gate No one says anything, although somehow we know this was the place Its high fences resemble those in the haunting August '92 newspaper photos showing emaciated Muslim men peenng out In the white building across from the compound Dusan Tadic—who served in neither the Yugoslav nor the Bosnian Serb Army—reportedly jomed camp guards in acts of almost inconceivable barbarism Over 100 witnesses have accused him of participating in dozens of rapes, sexual assaults, castrations, and ritualistic executions Unfortunately, what he is said to have done appears typical of the atrocities perpetrated in the Prijedor region We sit without speaking foi some time I try to imagine the scene during its darkest days From behind the compound's decrepit buildings I half expect to see woeful faces, or to catch in the air echoes of screams the world did not hear in time Though the truth may be more complicated, the events in Kozarac and Omarska defined the conflict in Bosnia for the West The Serbs were the aggressors, the Muslims their victims As we head back to Prijedor on a side road, Damjel grows philosophical He says the war robbed him of his best years He should have been attending the university and has lost the opportunity forever He must work to support himself now and cannot afford tuition in post-Communist Yugoslavia Shortly we pass a schoolhouse in the town of Trnopolje, just outside Prijedor Thick eight-foot high wooden posts surround its grounds, which include a small soccer field The posts are unconnected by wire and appear to serve no present purpose I suspect the site to have been another camp Daniiel and Rade drop me at the Hotel Prijedor around six o'clock I go to one of the many bustling cafes on the main pedestrian boulevard A healthy looking 30-year-old man sits down at the next table He introduces himself as Milovan Like Damjel, he works as a translator He tells me that he studied at Cornell University before the war and that he considers himself a Serb nationalist, but he talks of the economy and reconstruction more than of ethnic politics Milovan says he left the United States rn 1991 tojomthe Yugoslav Army out of a sense of duty While he did not support the war, he feels it was inevitable "The war m Yugoslavia was fed by greed," he explains The economy had collapsed, the masses were frustrated, and nationalism provided a common enemy whose resources could be taken "This was true of all sides—Muslim, Croat and Serb Serbs had to fight or we would have been ruled by them," he notes unapologetical-ly, adding "Muslim leaders in Sarajevo speak of a single multiethnic Bosnia What they really desire is a Bosnia they control religiously, economically and po-htically They were Communists and they do not value democracy now They do not believe in minonty nghts " In Milovan's words I hear an old Balkan expression Why should I be a minor -ity myour country when you can be one in mine7 "CNN depicts the Muslims as victims," he proclaims "They are not victims, they merely lost the war The Croats won the war, but the West does not blame them as it does the Serbs " I ask about Omarska Milovan thinks it was a bad place He believes those who controlled the camp used it for their own financial gain "They would let people buy freedom," Milovanpornts out "Many people left this way" I ask about other camps "I have watched the Tadic tnal in the Hague on Court TV," he states "The prosecutors say there were many camps, but only one camp existed—at the industrial zone m Omarska" Even though Milovan admits that women and children were forcibly detained on the school grounds in Trnopolje, he protests "That was not a camp Theirrel-atives could bring them food " I await an expression of irony None comes I ask about the large blue ceramic tile factory outside of town, since I suspect it was the site of the notorious Keraterm camp "That was a place for interrogations of Muslim and Croat soldiers," says Milovan, "it was not a camp " According to Simo Drljaca in a 1993 interview, over 6,000 "informative talks" were held at various locations in the Prijedor district, and roughly 1,500 Muslims and Croats were identified as enemies Most of these people were killed, it appears, along with thousands more Nonetheless, my otherwise thoughtful interlocutor seems to take comfort in his distinctions Milovan concedes many atrocities occurred around Prijedor early on He believes in individual accountability for war cnmes But he sees strong U S support for the international tribunal at the Hague, and the large number of Serbs indicted relative to those from other ethnic groups, as evidence of bias Returning to the hotel, I hear the vote count has begun in Novi and Prijedor without mcident Monday, September 16 At 6 30 am Rade and Damjel speed me to ifor headquarters in Banja Luka The division's Chief of Staff, another British colonel, has offered me a ride to Sarajevo From there I will head home Rade stuffs a bottle of slivovitz in my bag as he and Dani-jel say goodbye Damjel hopes I will remember the Serb people fondly A small helicopter with camouflage markings approaches from low on the horizon The gunner jumps from the sliding steel door as it lands and directs me to approach from the front to avoid the rotating blade In the aircraft he thrusts forward ear protecting headphones and taps one of three side-facing canvas seats The colonel jogs from a nearby building and takes an adj acent seat The helicopter lifts off in less than a minute For the next hour we traverse war-ravaged central Bos-ma at less than 1,000 feet Fallow fields and ruined houses are the landscape's dominant features In its emptiness the land below is tranquil What contradictions one finds in Republika Srpska Neither religious nor cultural traditions run particularly deep after decades of Communism, but a seemingly friendly people harbors great contempt for its physically indistinguishable ethnic neighbors Centuries-old wars that produced repressive occupations, whose facts have long been forgotten, live on in myth and folklore that pass as history And this "history,' accepted as an unfal-sifiable faith, continues to define the Serbs of Bosnia They see themselves as part of the West, not the East, but believe the West has misunderstood and abandoned them More than anything, though, they consider themselves victims All these sentiments continue to have disastrous consequences As the tragedy that has befallen Bosnia reveals, when stoked by economic self-interest and political manipulation, the lessons of the past justify in the minds of many Serbs rape, torture and murder Consider, too, the elections Most local Serb officials adhered to the technical minutiae of election day rules as though it were an issue of personal and ethnic pnde Years of ethnic purges, however, reinforced by persisting de facto restrictions on freedom of movement, expression and association, systematically skewed the undertaking The helicopter sails above blackened haystacks in presumptively mined fields of clover Villages many once called home are now mounds of burnt brick and rubble The absent villagers probably count themselves lucky to have escaped the fighting with nothing but their lives A short-time visitor cannot comprehend this place, these people Nothing is as it seems in Bosnia, indeed—except the misery caused by war (4 longer version of this r epoi t will appeal in a foi ihcoming issue of the Fletcher Forum of World Affairs...

Vol. 79 • October 1996 • No. 7

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