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May 7, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 239
On the Spot: Srebrenica and Bratunac

"I Wasn't There!"

by Dragan Todorovic

Srebrenica cut itself into the bare hills and there's no sign of the woods that came down to the hamlet. In the three years that the enclave was surrounded by the Bosnian Serbs, the Moslem burned all the wood. The woodpiles outside some houses haven't been used by the Serbs. The Serbs entered Srebrenica last July after provocation by Moslem troops from inside the enclave and they evicted the Moslems.

The industrial facilities outside Srebrenica are all standing still. The machines have been torn apart or riddled by bullets. Most houses have gone through the same. There are piles of garbage in the town and a lot of broken household items litter the muddy river. The town seem ghost like as do the people. Main street is covered in mud. About 100 people are waiting in line in front of the Red Cross office.

It's almost a year since the Bosnian Serbs came back to the enclave and two thirds of its inhabitants still don't have electricity, water supplies are irregular. None of the local economy works not even the Sase mine. There are five working telephones in town but the local radio is operating and there is some political and patriotic activity. A rally was held to lend support to Karadzic and Mladic with buses bringing people in for free. The Socialists also set themselves up there with no problems since they were under police guard.

I was there on a Saturday and Mayor Stanko Rakic was at home. He's an elderly man and cautious. "No tapes, who knows who can use them." "Up to the war, Srebrenica had a population of 8,000 and the municipality a population of 37,600 90% of that were Moslems," I said. The mayor was upset: "There were 75% of Moslems." Now the town and municipality have a population of 13,000 including refugees from 59 other places and 3,500 from Sarajevo. About 1,000 live in a camp built by the Swedes for Moslems. All Serb villages and some Moslems are gone and the population is mainly in town. There were 29 companies but none of them are working. The mayor said there were some efforts to restore them but those are very limited. He said everyone lives off the Red Cross.

Political situation? The parties that are registered are active. That means the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), Socialist Party of RS, Serbian radical Party (SRS) and Arkan's men. He didn't attend the SPS promotion because he was busy but he has nothing against them.

Mayor Rakic said Srebrenica needs 100 tons of flour a month. Although most food comes from humanitarian aid he added that they're under an embargo by foreign humanitarian organizations. I asked about the crimes against the Moslems. He replied curtly: "I wasn't here."

We were joined by Sarajevo refugee doctor Milomir Milosevic. He wondered why Serbs would talk about those crimes and said the story might be true but the truth probably lies somewhere in between. Between the Serb We Know Nothing and the Moslem claims of several thousand dead. Local SDS board chairman Momcilo Cvjetinovic added something at the rally of support for the Bosnian Serb leaders: "The Moslem army here was defeated by the Serb people. We aren't hiding their dead soldiers. They're in our forests and on our hills."

Unlike Srebrenica, Bratunac (15 km down the river) suffered no destruction. The place where the mosque once was is green with grass. There are a lot more people on the streets. Some 7,000 Serb refugees from Hadzici came here. Over 500 of them are still in camps.

People walk around aimlessly or stand around in groups. There's a crowd in front of the bank; Pale have allowed the payment of bonds which were issued as salaries two years ago at a face value of 50 DEM in dinars but there's a shortage of cash.

I approached a group of elderly people. "Go to the school and photograph the poor refugees then take it to Slobodan so he can see what he's done to the Serb people. And don't forget those are decent people who didn't steal but were on the front line. We started the war and defended ourselves; now we've lost what it took us 50 years to build so Milosevic can go down in history."

Some of the Hadzici Serbs are housed in three schools. In front of one of them stands a group of people, all day in silence. Nylon sheets on the windows. The stairs inside are wet with the water from a broken toilet. Long corridors with screens to undress behind. 30-40 beds in each room. Children and parents together. A huge stove in one corner and a pile of wood next to it. Personal things beside the beds alongside pots and pans. Most people sit on the beds. They don't react to my visit. An elderly woman said: "Look for yourself, you see how it is." I took pictures. A middle aged woman commented: "Give the picture to Milosevic so he can see what he's done."

One classroom doubles as the surgery and a classroom.

IFOR troops pass out free copies of newspapers calling for life together and understanding. Goran Vulic (19) complained that the atmosphere was killing him. He keeps meeting the same people, the two daily meals are bad, he has to go somewhere but the army is a problem. There's no work for him or his parents. Recently a man from Serbia offered him 700 DEM to find him a free woman among the refugees. Help from Serbia is coming but from an unexpected source.


In Ljubovija on the other side of the Drina I found an unusual offer. As soon as people heard I was a reporter going to Srebrenica they came up offering information for money. One man wanted 10,000 DEM for information on mass graves. When I showed I wasn't interested they asked for contacts with foreign journalists. It turned out they only wanted to earn money. The offer is there and someone will bite.

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