The Spokesman-Review, p.A4
7 August 1992.
ZENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The bus bringing Atif Ahmedzehajic to the Serb-run detention camp at Omarska had just begun disgorging Bosniak prisoners when the guards began shooting.
“Right there before my eyes, they shot dead three men. For the first one of them, I am sure that they shot him 300 times,” said the 51-year-old stone mason.
Before she was taken to the concentration camp at Trnopolje, Semira Mejdanac, 21, said she was ordered to burn down her own house and 10 other Bosniak-owner houses in her hometown of Kozarac.
“One of them was holding a knife to my throat all the time. They gave me some matches and said, ‘Burn it.’ I said, ‘Burn what?’ They said to start with the curtains and the furniture covers,” said Mejdanac.
A 54-year-old mother of three sons, Muharema Filovic, spent 15 days in the concentration camp at Trnopolje and said she watched hooded guards come each night to take away teenage girls.
“we would hear screams and after about two hours the girls would be brought back. They were beaten up. While I was there, about 50 girls were raped. The guards were drunk,” said Filovic, who said her husband and sons are still being held in two camps.
These accounts come front lengthy and separate interviews here this week with eight released Bosniak prisoners, four men and four women, who were held in three Serb-run concentration camps in norther Bosnia.
They were released from the camps in June and July and sent by train or bus to Zenica and Travnik, two Bosnian cities where about 28,000 homeless Bosniaks are being put up in schools, gymnasiums and private homes. Several thousand of these refugees were prisoners in the camps, and most of them were driven from their villages and towns by Serb fighters as part of what Serbian leaders call “ethnic cleansing.”
The picture that emerges from the interviews is that tens of thousands of Bosniak men, women and children have been — and are continuing to be — held in severely overcrowded and filthy camps where beatings, shootings, gang rape and starvation are part of a daily routine.
None of those interviewed described the camps at Omarska, Trnopolje or Prijedor as death camps in which large numbers of prisoners have been systematically murdered or tortured to death.
It is remarkable, however, that among the thousands of elderly men, women and children who have arrived as refugees here in Zenica and nearby Travnik, there are almost no young or middle-aged men. Refugees here say they believe their husbands, sons and brothers are either still in the camps or are dead.
On Thursday, Western television networks showed images taken recently at two of the camps, in Omarska and Trnopolje. Television pictures of the Trnopolje camp showed emaciated men standing behind fences. A report accompanying the pictures, prepared by Ian Williams of Britain’s Independent Television News, said that reporters who entered the camp were told that men had been maltreated and some beaten to death.
But the reporters said they were denied access to parts of the camp and could speak only to prisoners selected by their Serb guides.
The detention camps appear to be operated, to a large degree, by local Serbs from northern Bosnia. In the interviews, former prisoners gave consistent accounts of how they were ordered from their homes by Serbs they knew or recognized.
These Serbs looted or burned their homes, former prisoners said, and hauled away their livestock and farm machinery.
The refugees said they traveled in buses or in wagons pulled by tractors to the camps, which were hurriedly thrown together in mid-May in school buildings and on factory grounds.