U.S. Official Sees Atrocity Evidence in Bosnia
In the first such visit by a high-ranking Western investigator, Washington’s senior human rights official Sunday toured snow-covered fields thought to hold the bodies of thousands of massacred Muslims and indicated that evidence is mounting to substantiate allegations of the deadliest atrocity in the Bosnian war.
Under the watch of Bosnian Serb police, the official, John Shattuck, also inspected the bullet-pocked, blood-spattered walls of a nearby warehouse where Muslims were apparently rounded up to be killed, as well as other scenes from the massacres that allegedly followed the fall of the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in July.
Up to 7,000 people are missing from Srebrenica, a U.N.-designated “safe area” in eastern Bosnia overrun by the Bosnian Serb army, a tragic episode that exposed the impotence of the U.N. peacekeeping mission and eventually led to the current NATO-led deployment in the Balkans.
“I’m afraid their fate could well be very clear, from the mass graves and mass executions that we’ve heard about in the area,” Shattuck, assistant U.S. secretary of state for human rights, told dozens of reporters who, trudging through ice and snow, accompanied him to the site where survivors say the mass graves were dug.
He added that there appears to be “overwhelming evidence” of “horrible crimes against humanity.”
“The accounts I had heard from eyewitnesses who I interviewed in July . . . those accounts [of large-scale killing] were very strongly corroborated by what I saw today,” Shattuck later said in a telephone interview from the Serbian and Yugoslav capital, Belgrade, where he was spending the night.
The allegations of large-scale executions and burials are not new and have been aired since shortly after Srebrenica fell. What is new is the momentum building behind the investigation and verification of the crimes as the fledgling peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina opens a window of opportunity and rare access.
Efforts to investigate are also taking on a sense of urgency because of fears that Bosnian Serbs will try to tamper with or dispose of the evidence while North Atlantic Treaty Organization peace enforcers continue to resist being drawn into the more active role of guarding grave sites.
Shattuck, who was escorted by Bosnian Serb police throughout his tour of Serb-held territory, said he saw no signs of tampering by the Serbs and characterized their behavior as a “model of cooperation.”
Until now, Bosnian Serb officials have tried to keep the entire region off limits to the outside world’s probing eyes. But pressure from former patron Slobodan Milosevic, the president of neighboring Serbia, forced the Bosnian Serbs to grant Shattuck access to the alleged grave sites.
Two investigators from the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague joined Shattuck on Sunday, making their first on-site assessments of the alleged graves. They are gathering evidence for the prosecution of the Bosnian Serbs’ two top leaders, Radovan Karadzic and military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who have been indicted in connection with the Srebrenica massacre.
More than 35,000 Muslims lived in Srebrenica when Bosnian Serb gunmen, ignoring international pleas, overran the enclave and expelled all its residents. Mladic presided over the ejection, according to survivors’ accounts, promising people they’d be safe and then encouraging his men to rape and kill.
As the town fell, an estimated 15,000 Muslim fighters tried to escape through forests to government-held territory. While some made it, many were ambushed; others were captured, rounded up and killed, the survivors say.
Many may be buried here in Glogova, a ghost town of shelled houses and ruins about seven miles north of Srebrenica. Shattuck visited two large clearings just off the main road that appeared to have been recently bulldozed and that yielded bits of clothing and bone.
Shattuck said the site was probably the burial ground of about 2,000 men who surrendered to the Bosnian Serbs.
Reportedly, the Serbs--disguising themselves as U.N. peacekeepers to lure the Muslims from their forested hiding places--herded the Muslims into the warehouse of a food-processing company in the town of Kravica, about four miles up the road from Glogova.
The Serbs, survivors said, then opened fire on the corralled men with guns and grenades.
The warehouse, its modern facade partially charred, faces the main road. Inside, bullet and shrapnel holes cover the walls. On one wall roughly 20 feet by 12 feet, there are no fewer than 140 punctures left by ammunition, and what appears to be blood is splattered and smeared in different places.
“This is a terrible, terrible monument to those many civilians who lost their lives in this conflict and were victims of war crimes and genocide,” Shattuck said.
Shattuck and his team also visited a schoolhouse and gymnasium in the village of Karakaj, about 25 miles north of Srebrenica, where, according to survivors, captured Muslims were held before being taken out in groups of 30 into woods nearby and shot, then dumped into open pits.
Shattuck’s group also inspected purported mass grave sites at a soccer field near the destroyed town of Nova Kasaba, where about 2,000 refugees are said to have been detained before being executed.
“Ultimately justice and long-term peace must go together,” Shattuck told reporters at the soccer field. “We cannot hope to see an end to this terrible conflict until the facts are known about what occurred and justice is done. . . . That’s the moral imperative.”
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