Some of the last remaining Bosnian Serbs in Sarajevo’s suburbs are being attacked and harassed by Muslim refugees and thugs bent on driving them from their homes, U.N. and other international monitors said Wednesday.
Dealing another blow to the once-cherished vision of a multiethnic Bosnian capital, the organized attacks are threatening moderate Serbs who sought coexistence with former enemies and resisted hard-line Bosnian Serb pressure to abandon their neighborhoods when Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs were transferred to Muslim control three months ago.
There seems to be little effort by officials of the Muslim-led government to stop the anti-Serb attacks, international monitors said. The campaign will strengthen the hands of hard-liners on both sides who advocate ethnic division and will further undermine attempts to bring peace and reconciliation to Bosnia-Herzegovina under the U.S.-brokered Dayton, Ohio, accord, analysts said.
U.N. international police are investigating about 400 reports of harassment, including violent, illegal evictions of Serbian homeowners. The Muslim-Croat federation police are in charge of these cases. There have been no arrests; in fact, police have been implicated in some of the incidents, which often occur after a strictly enforced curfew, according to monitors.
The violence escalated within the past month, U.N. experts said, after Bosnian government officials began resettling refugees from the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in the suburbs of Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serb army overran Srebrenica almost a year ago and is believed to have killed thousands of unarmed Muslim men. Unable to go home and deprived of many of their men, the Srebrenica refugees are an angry group, and they are now taking out that anger on Sarajevo Serbs.
Last week, a 95-year-old Serbian man was picked up by a group of young Muslim men and badly beaten, his jaws and four ribs broken, in the suburb of Grbavica. On Sunday, a Serbian man in the suburb of Vogosca reported that several young Muslims broke into his home, choked and beat his wife and then stole building materials.
Another Serbian man and his son were repeatedly beaten during an eviction in Grbavica as a Bosnian government housing inspector looked on, U.N. officials said. The man later was kicked by police when he tried to file a complaint.
In a case that U.N. officials said is typical, one Serbian woman went to the doctor for a couple of hours and returned to find that a Muslim family of 10 had occupied her home.
Government officials have denied that the harassment is deliberate policy; however, the transport of refugees to Ilidza and other suburbs is clearly organized by municipal authorities, and some refugees have municipal certificates granting them temporary permission to occupy “abandoned” homes.
“The Bosnian government has to put an end to it if they do not want to end up being thrown into the same category with the famous practices of Republika Srpska,” said U.N. official Kris Janowski, referring to the Bosnian Serb ministate that is more regularly associated with forced expulsions known as “ethnic cleansing.”
“Basically, it is up to the government to stop it,” Janowski said.
Replacing Serbs with rural Muslims boosts the hard-line faction of Bosnia’s ruling Muslim party, Democratic Action, in the months leading up to elections. It also plays into the hands of Bosnian Serb hard-liners such as Radovan Karadzic, who continues to argue that Serbs and Muslims cannot and should not live together.
For the handful of moderate Bosnian Serbs who heeded the international community’s advice and encouraged fellow Serbs to stick it out and remain in Sarajevo’s suburbs, there is bitter disappointment. These leaders--the widely sought-after alternative to Karadzic--feel betrayed and find their credibility eroding.
“The Serbs [during the war] openly expelled people, violently, with weapons,” said one of these leaders, Goran Kapor, a young political scientist. “But the Muslims talk about multiethnicity to gain points with the world [and] then in a subtle, covert way also cleanse their territory. . . .
“A lot of [Serbs] stayed on my street because my wife, my baby and I were staying. Now I’m worried that if something happens to them, I will be responsible.”
Indeed, the Serbs who have stayed until now resisted enormous pressure and propaganda, from both sides, in the weeks leading up to the transfer of Serb-held suburbs to Muslim-Croat control, a transition that ended March 19. An estimated 50,000 Serbs fled, with about 10,000 staying behind. The new wave of intimidation will not only drive more Serbs out but also kill chances that any of those who left might return, human rights monitors said.
Sometimes the harassment begins subtly, victims said.
Milkan Tadic, a widower of 67, said unknown assailants sneaked up to his Ilidza home after midnight last weekend, stole his only goat and then slaughtered it on the edge of his yard.
Two days later, a gang of Muslims warned Tadic that he and all Serbs who remain in this suburb will be expelled or die.
“I’ve lost trust since these incidents began,” Tadic said. He is now reconsidering his original refusal to abandon his home of 20 years for a new one in Republika Srpska.
Dragica Skrkar, 73, has lived, mostly alone, in her country home at the end of a long, dirt road in the hills outside Ilidza since 1941. The Serbian woman, who has survived her husband, son and daughter-in-law, said two men who identified themselves as Muslim refugees visited her twice in the last four days to demand her property.
“They asked me how many family members I had, why I need such a big house,” said Skrkar, seated among the cherry trees and wildflowers of her backyard and dressed in widow’s black. “They asked me why I hadn’t left also.”
Down the road, two young men who said they were from Srebrenica pushed wheelbarrows loaded with a stove and a washing machine taken from another Serb’s abandoned home.
“The Serbs can come back here as soon as we can go back to Srebrenica,” said one of the men, who was dressed in military camouflage.