Prelude to the Srebrenica genocide
Author: Daniel Toljaga
Uploaded: Thursday, 18 November, 2010
Important research document that shows the systematic ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs in eastern Bosnia in the first stages of Belgrade's assault on B-H, and that makes crystal clear how the 1995 Srebrenica massacre was the culmination of a genocidal project initiated in 1992.
Prelude to the Srebrenica Genocide - mass murder and ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks in the Srebrenica region during the first three months of the Bosnian War (April-June 1992)
‘It was these massacres that should have alerted the international community to the prospect of genocide when the United Nations-protected enclave eventually fell to Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic in July 1995.’
MAP: Pre-war Ethnic Composition of Bosnia and Herzegovina (1991) with a Focus on the Srebrenica region.
More than three years before the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Bosnian Serb nationalists - with the logistical, moral and financial support of Serbia and the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) - destroyed 296 predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim)1
villages in the region around Srebrenica, forcibly uprooting some 70,000 Bosniaks from their homes and systematically massacring at least 3,166 Bosniaks (documented deaths) including many women, children and the elderly. It was these massacres that should have alerted the international community to the prospect of genocide when the United Nations-protected enclave eventually fell to Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic three years later, in July 1995.
The following study provides a short background account of the outbreak of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina in April 1992, an overview of significant massacres committed against the Bosniak population in the Srebrenica region during the first three months of the war, including a breakdown of the numbers of Bosniak victims and a complete list of villages wholly or partially destroyed by Serb forces in and around Srebrenica between April and June 1992.
For the purposes of this study, the Srebrenica region is defined as the area comprising the municipality of Srebrenica and the adjoining pre-war municipalities of Bratunac, Vlasenica, Rogatica and Višegrad. This strategically important central section of the River Drina valley is situated in the Podrinje, which forms Bosnia’s eastern border with Serbia. According to the 1991 population census in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosniaks comprised the ethnic majority in all five municipalities (75.19% in Srebrenica; 64.05% in Bratunac; 55.17% in Vlasenica; 60.10% in Rogatica and 63.54% in Višegrad).
Although armed conflict in this part of eastern Bosnia commenced on 6 April 1992 with the attack of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) on the town of Višegrad, it was not until 17 April that the Bosnian Serb authorities announced their effective intention to commit genocide in a public threat to ‘destroy’ the Bosniak population of the municipalities of Srebrenica and Bratunac, some 49,000 people.
Preparing for War (Early 1991)
Prior to Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of sovereignty in October 1991, the Bosnian Serb leadership was already making preparations ‘for eventual secession from or division of BH from behind the scenes’ by actively undermining ‘the existing political and administrative system in the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SRBiH).’2
For example, in April 1991 the Bosnian Serb leadership embarked on a programme of regionalisation by creating the Serb ‘Autonomous Region of Krajina’ (ARK) and establishing parallel institutions of government throughout the area that was intended to form part of an ethnically homogeneous Serb state, the ‘Greater Serbia’ project.3
The decision to incorporate Srebrenica into a future restructured Serbian state was made by the government of Slobodan Miloševic, then President of Serbia.
In early May of 1991, Miloševic's cabinet summoned two local Bosnian Serb leaders to attend a high-level meeting with Mihalj Kertes in Belgrade. The meeting was attended by Goran Zekic from Srebrenica and Miroslav Deronjic from Bratunac, the leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) in their respective municipalities. Kertes, long-time director of the Yugoslav Federal Customs Bureau, was Miloševic's man of trust who provided logistic and financial support for various undercover operations of the Serbian regime. At this meeting, Kertes advised Zekic and Deronji
c that ‘the decision of the political and state leadership of the SFRY
[Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia] was that an area of 50 kilometres from the Drina would be Serb.4
There was one problem with this decision: the area Miloševic had assigned to the Bosnian Serbs included large swathes of predominantly Bosniak-inhabited territory in the municipalities of Zvornik, Bratunac, Vlasenica, Srebrenica, Višegrad, Rogatica, Goražde and Foca. Bosniaks loyal to the Bosnian government in Sarajevo stood in the way of the plan to establish an ethnically-pure Serb region that would eventually form part of a ‘Greater Serbia’.
Miloševic's strategy could not be implemented without the use of force and the Belgrade leadership agreed to start covert shipments of arms to local Serbs in and around Srebrenica immediately under the supervision of Zekic and Deronjic. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) found that weapons were ‘shipped into the area from Serbia across the DrinaRiver or flown in by helicopter. Paramilitary training was covertly provided in public buildings in Bosnian Serb villages throughout the area. In comparison... there were not even firearms to be found in the Bosnian Muslim villages, apart from some privately owned pistols and hunting rifles; a few light weapons were kept at the Srebrenica police station
Killings Fuel Tension (3 September 1991)
On 3 September 1991 four Bosniaks were ambushed by a group of Serb nationalists as their car was passing through the village of Kravica in Bratunac municipality. Dževad Jusic and Nedžad Hodžic - were shot and killed, while the other two - Mevludin Sinanovic and Zaim Salkovic - survived with injuries.6
The Kravica ambush aroused particular panic, evoking vivid memories of horrendous massacres during World War II. In the fall of 1941, Nazi-collaborating Bosnian Serb Chetniks under the command of Jezdimir Dangic killed 81 Bosniak civilians in the village of Zaklopaca. They barricaded civilians in the local mekteb (Muslim religious school) and burned them to death.7
A similar crime took place in December 1941. This time Chetniks from the Serb village of Kravica - armed with guns, knives, hammers, sticks, and axes - massacred 86 Bosniak civilians in Sopotnik (near Drinjaca).8
Then in February 1943, Draza Mihailovic's Chetnik forces rounded up and killed 9200 Bosniaks from both sides of the River Drina.9
Karadžic's Threats of Genocide (October 1991)
In the months before Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from the former Yugoslavia10
, Miloševic's ally, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžic expressed his own genocidal intentions in intercepted telephone conversations and public speeches. Historian Dr. Robert J. Donia described Karadžic's language as ‘'threatening' and issued from the point of view of someone 'who can dictate to the Muslims what their options are.
In the recording of an intercepted conversation between Karadžic and Gojko Ðogo on 12 October 1991, Karadžic repeated five times that in the event of war the Bosniaks would ‘disappear’. In his words, ‘They don’t understand that there will be bloodshed and that the Muslim people could disappear. Misguided Muslims, who do not know where he [Izetbegovic] is taking them, that they could disappea
r... they will disappear, this people will disappear from the face of the earth
A day later, speaking to Momcilo Mandic over the telephone, Karadžic said: ‘Within a few days there will be no Sarajevo, and there will be over 500,000 dead; within a month the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be destroyed!
Then again, on 15 October 1991, speaking to Miodrag Davidovic and his own brother Luka, Karadžic said: ‘In the first instance, none of their [Bosniak] leaders will remain alive, they will be killed within 3 or 4 hours. They will have no chance of surviving.
Karadžic spoke publicly about the ‘annihilation’ of the ‘Muslim people’ when he addressed the Parliament of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the night of 14–15 October 1991. Making clear what was likely to happen if Bosnia and Herzegovina seceded from the rump of Yugoslavia, Karadžic indicated the possibility that the Bosnian Muslims could disappear as a group:
‘You want to take Bosnia and Herzegovina down the same highway to hell and suffering that Slovenia and Croatia are travelling. Do not think that you will not lead Bosnia and Herzegovina into hell, and do not think that you will not perhaps lead the Muslim people into annihilation because the Muslims cannot defend themselves if there is war. How will you prevent everyone from being killed in Bosnia and Herzegovina?’
Deployment of the Yugoslav Army (JNA) (January 1992)
In response to the growing crisis in the former Yugoslavia, representatives of a European Union Peace Mission headed by Jacques Gabrielle, visited Srebrenica on 3 January 1992 to meet with local political leaders. Asked what he thought was potentially the most destabilizing factor in inter-ethnic relations in the Srebrenica municipality, the chairman of the municipal assembly Besim Ibiševic replied point blank, ‘The JNA.’ Ibiševic explained that,
‘The arrival of the JNA will spark the outbreak of war. The Serbs desire JNA's arrival, because it is their Army. After seeing what the Yugoslav Army has done in Croatia, Bosniaks are rightfully fearful of it and see it as a hostile military force. JNA has plans to enter into the territory of our municipality, and if they do so, then the war is inevitable
Ibiševic's concerns were justified. The JNA was one of the largest armies in Europe, which by early 1991 had transformed itself into a de facto
Serbian army with approximately 90 percent of high-ranking officers of Serb and Montenegrin ethnic origin.15
When on 2 January 1992 a ceasefire agreement brought the fighting in Croatia to a provisional halt, the JNA began redeploying many of its units into Bosnia. By April 1992, artillery posts had been set up at all the strategic points and elevations around Srebrenica. Other preparations for the onslaught against the local Bosniak population were also in place.
The Propaganda War
Prior to the outbreak of the armed conflict, the Bosnian Serb authorities started waging a propaganda war. Prominent members of Karadžic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) regularly appeared in the media making discriminatory speeches insulting and degrading non-Serbs and inciting the Bosnian Serbs to commit crimes against other ethnic groups.16
Then, at the beginning of April 1992, the Bosnian TV relay station on Mount Kvarac was blown up. Local residents could no longer receive TV broadcasts from Sarajevo, only Serbian programmes from Belgrade.17
The source of Srebrenica’s water supply in the village of Slapovici was also sabotaged, leaving the town with no access to running water and creating an atmosphere of panic.18
The deliberate destruction of the local TV relay was no accident. It was part of the programme of ‘regionalisation’ referred to earlier, which envisaged the creation of autonomous regions in which Serb ‘authorities started taking over television and radio installations, and broadcasting 'Serb' programs that intimidated persons of other nationalities. Muslim leaders were barred from the radio while SDS [Karadžic's Serb Democratic Party] leaders had unlimited access
The propaganda campaign had a ‘disastrous impact on the people of all ethnicities, creating mutual fear and hatred and particularly inciting the Bosnian Serb population against the other ethnicities
’ and creating ‘a climate where people were prepared to tolerate the commission of crimes and to commit crimes
.’ Once armed conflict had broken out in Bosnia, the SDS-controlled media openly incited Bosnian Serbs to kill other non-Serbs. 20
The Outbreak of War and the First Victims
The first impact of the outbreak of war was felt in Višegrad, at the beginning of April 1992, as the Yugoslav Army embarked on a campaign of intimidation that was to lead to the ethnic cleansing of the town and some of the most terrible atrocities committed anywhere during the entire Bosnian war, described later in this chronological sequence of events.
In the municipality of Srebrenica, the first victims of war crimes were two Bosniak civilians from Potocari, Meho Hrvacic and Bahrudin Osmanovic. On 15 April 1992, their vehicle was stopped by a group of armed Serbian Chetniks on the road from Skelani to Srebrenica.’ They were executed and their bodies left at the roadside. Earlier that day, a truck full of armed Chetniks came from the direction of Skelani, entered the Bosniak village of Kragljivoda and destroyed a local Post office.21
The Ultimatum of Genocide (17 April 1992)
On 22 March 1992, Serbs formed the so called ‘Serb municipality of Skelani’, without any consultation with the majority Bosniak population of the municipality of Srebrenica or of the Skelani area. Skelani, located in the municipality of Srebrenica, was one of the largest Bosniak villages in eastern Bosnia.22
In the first half of April 1992, ‘volunteers’ from Serbia crossed the Drina River and took control of this village in a preparatory operation aimed at 'disarming' the civilian population and establishing a Serb foothold in the predominantly Bosniak municipalities of Bratunac and Srebrenica.
Then, on 17 April 1992, a meeting was held in the Hotel Fontana in Bratunac between the Bosniak and Serb representatives of the Srebrenica and Bratunac municipalities. It was at this meeting that the Serb authorities issued the public ultimatum which effectively threatened the Bosniak population of Srebrenica and Bratunac, some 49,000 people, with genocide.23
In the words of Miroslav Deronjic, Bosniaks had two options: ‘To leave Srebrenica quietly or to be killed. There is no third option.
’ He warned that ‘Bratunac, Skelani, Milici, Rogatica and Višegrad are already in Serb hands
Bosniaks were ‘to surrender weapons and legal authority to Bosnian Serbs. Otherwise they were to suffer from destruction at the hands of thousands of Serb soldiers who were amassed across the DrinaRiver in Serbia.’25
War in the Municipalities of Srebrenica and Bratunac (17 April onwards)
That same day, the Serb nationalists of Radovan Karadžic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) assumed political power in Bratunac. This event marked a transition from uncertainty and political instability to a period of war and suffering, accompanied by large-scale expulsions of the Bosniak population driven by a campaign of unrelenting violence.
The attack upon the Bosniak population of the Srebrenica region took many forms, starting with the Serb takeover of towns and villages and followed by the systematic and large-scale criminal campaign of murders, rapes and mistreatment of civilians. Despite routine guarantees of safety offered if they surrendered weapons, unarmed Bosniak villagers were frequently rounded up and executed, while many women and girls were subjected to sadistic sexual torture and gang-raped.26
Localised resistance in some cases led to the establishment of enclaves under Bosniak control to which refugees fled from elsewhere in the Podrinje, the most notable of them being Srebrenica, Kamenica, Cerska, Konjevic Polje, Velika Glogova, Potocari, Suceska, Osmace and Žepa.
The First Fall of Srebrenica and Massacre (18 April - 8 May 1992)
Following the takeover of Bratunac, the Serb forces began the attack on Srebrenica on 18 April 1992, firing around 5000 mortar shells on the town and the surrounding Bosniak villages. There was no resistance. The same day, Serbs entered the town, looting Bosniak property, setting houses on fire and killing Bosniak residents who were unable to flee into nearby woods.
The Serb occupation of the town of Srebrenica lasted until 8 May, the day when Serbs burned to death 23 Bosniak civilians in the downtown Srebrenica. The victims died in excruciating pain. From April 17 to May 8, a total of 74 Bosniak civilians were killed in the occupied Srebrenica.27
The youngest victim was the 12-month-old boy Nezir Suljic whose charred body was still lying in his cradle. His father Huso, his mother Muška, and his brother Nisvet were burned to death in the same room. Nezir's nine-year-old sister Sanela survived by jumping through a window and hiding in nearby woods.28
First Instances of Resistance (20 April 1992)
On 20 April 1992, Serb paramilitary units attempted to enter Potocari, a Bosniak village on the road from Srebrenica to Bratunac. They were met by opposition from a group of Bosniak villagers armed with hunting guns and led by Naser Oric. The villagers set up an ambush, killing four attackers belonging to the notorious paramilitary group ‘Arkan's Tigers.’ This was the first instance of successful Bosniak resistance to Serb aggression in the municipality of Srebrenica. Oric was subsequently to achieve prominence as the most effective commander of the defence forces during the period of the siege.
On the same day, the mountain village of Likari, located about 10km from Srebrenica, became the first Bosniak settlement in the municipality to be completely destroyed by the Serbs. Likari was defended by a group of poorly armed Bosniak villagers with ‘only about 25 old hunting rifles and no means of obtaining more
The capture of Likari enabled Serb forces and the Yugoslav People's Army to strategically reposition their heavy artillery and inflict heavy material damage on property including homes and agricultural buildings in Potocari and neighbouring Bosniak villages.
The Hranca Massacre (2-3 May 1992)
On 2 May 1992, Hranca became the first Bosniak village in the municipality of Bratunac to be attacked. A group of Serb paramilitaries commanded by Najdan Mladenovic, raided Bosniak homes demanding weapons. They killed one Bosniak civilian, Fi
co Ramic, before leaving the village. The next day, Serb gunmen with Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) support, surrounded and then torched the village, killing another 14 Bosniak civilians, including a seven year old girl Selma Hodžic.30
British journalist Tim Judah visited Hranca two days later and found local Bosniaks praying over the dead. The little body of the girl was ‘lying on a sofa in a small house there.
The Hranca massacre was the clearest possible signal of what was about to happen next to the remaining Bosniak population of the Srebrenica region.
The Bljeceva Attack (6 May 1992)
The next target was the predominantly Bosniak village of Bljeceva in the municipality of Bratunac which was attacked by Serb mortars on 6 May 1992. The mortars struck several homes in the village, killing a 16-year old Bosniak girl, Vesna Muratovic, and two elderly Serb residents of the village, Kosana Zekic and Gojko Jovanovic. Several other residents were wounded. The Bosniak population of the village fled towards the village of Pale. Serb forces quickly moved into Bljeceva, pillaging and burning homes. They shot and killed one Bosniak civilian, Ibro Jašarevic, and took prisoner anyone unable to flee, including Nurif Memi
ševic, a paralyzed Bosniak man unable to move unaided. He was forced to sign a ‘confession’ to the effect that he was being well treated by his Bosnian Serb captors, and that it was Bosniaks who had attacked the village and been responsible for the killings. Memiševic was never seen again.32
Liberation of Srebrenica (8 May 1992)
Bosnian Serb forces retreated from Srebrenica following the death in an ambush on 8 May 1992 of the local Serb leader Goran Zekic, a key organiser of the ethnic cleansing of the Bosniak population of Srebrenica and Bratunac. After his death, local Bosniaks succeeded in reoccupying the devastated town and began organizing its defence. However, the town remained under siege, cut off from the territory under Government control. The brutal siege of Srebrenica was subsequently described by the United Nations itself as ‘a slow-motion process of genocide
Although the presence of the Yugoslav People's Army on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina formally ended on 19 May 1992, the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) found that ‘a large number of JNA troops, weaponry and equipment remained in BiH and were merely re-designated ‘Army of the SerbianRepublic of BiH’ (VRS). Consequently, the VRS had at its disposal a significant cache of resources, outweighing by far those available to the Bosnian Muslims
Serbian forces regularly fired on Srebrenica from positions on Mount Tara across the Drina in Serbia where the Special State Security Forces of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) operated a training centre. Some places were shelled blindly, but a sizeable portion of the free territory was within clear sight and range of Serb artillery and snipers. In the first three months of war, Serb forces fired an average of 2000 mortar shells per day on the enclave of Srebrenica. The International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) concluded that:
‘Between April 1992 and March 1993, Srebrenica town and the villages in the area held by Bosnian Muslims were constantly subjected to Serb military assaults, including artillery attacks, sniper fire, as well as occasional bombing from aircrafts. Each onslaught followed a similar pattern. Serb soldiers and paramilitaries surrounded a Bosnian Muslim village or hamlet, called upon the population to surrender their weapons, and then began with indiscriminate shelling and shooting. In most cases, they then entered the village or hamlet, expelled or killed the population, who offered no significant resistance, and destroyed their homes. During this period, Srebrenica was subjected to indiscriminate shelling from all directions on a daily basis. Potocari in particular was a daily target for Serb artillery and infantry because it was a sensitive point in the defence line around Srebrenica. Other Bosnian Muslim settlements were routinely attacked as well. All this resulted in a great number of refugees and casualties
Glogova Massacre: 9 May 1992
On 9 May 1992, Serb forces assisted by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) entered the village of Glogova and killed at least 64 unarmed Bosniak civilians. Several women were taken into the nearby forest where they were gang-raped by the masked Serb soldiers.36
The remaining population of the village was forcibly expelled. Prior to the massacre, village residents had been disarmed and guaranteed safety. The decision to attack Glogova was taken two days beforehand, at a meeting between the Bratunac Crisis Staff and the Yugoslav People's Army commander known as 'Captain Reljic,' Raša Miloševic, commander of the Kravica Detachment, ‘and another person who was a member of the State Security of Serbia
According to Ibrahim Dervišagic, a survivor of the massacre, many of the Serbs who participated in the Glogova massacre came from the nearby Serb village of Kravica.38
Another survivor, Azem Rizvanovic, watched from a nearby forest as two women from Serbia - Vesna Krdžalic from Beli Manastir and Dragica Mastikosa from Novi Sad - used knives to kill Bosniak civilians. Both women were killed during the
29 May 1992 attack on the Bosniak village of Sandici.39
The Role of Kravica in Crimes Against Bosniaks
Kravica is a predominantly Serb populated village in Bratunac municipality. Throughout the Bosnian war, Kravica was heavily militarized. The Bosnian Serb Army's Kravica Detachment took part in almost daily attacks on Bosniak hamlets, villages and settlements in the area, including terrible massacres of civilians in villages such as Glogova. From the very beginning of the war, the Kravica Serbs looted livestock and other goods belonging to Bosniaks killed or driven from their hamlets and villages. They also took part in more systematic abuse of Bosniak prisoners.
As well as taking part in the torture of Bosniak civilians in the detention camp set up in the Vuk Karadžic school in Bratunac, Serbs from Kravica also established a detention camp for captured Bosniak civilians in an abandoned local Serb Orthodox church, where they tortured, raped and killed prisoners including women and underage girls. Some 350 civilians were detained in the camp.40
The physical abuse perpetrated on them included beatings with objects, including steel pipes and rifle butts and bare fists, kicking victims with boots and extracting teeth with rusty pliers. Detainees were beaten unconscious and some beaten to death.
One of the most sadistic individuals to take part in the torture was Momir Nikolic. He used a sharp knife to gouge out prisoners’ eyes. In one particularly gruesome incident other prisoners were forced to watch as Nikolic blinded the defenceless Bosniak prisoner Šaban Salkic. Female detainees, including young women and underage girls, were forced to lie beside the cross on the altar while their abusers took sadistic pleasure in torturing and raping Muslims in a Serb Orthodox church. One of the most violent of the rapists was Golub Eric.41
According to his grandson Slaviša, Golub Eric and his brother Nego had also committed crimes against Bosniaks in World War II. Both participated in the massacre of Bosniak civilians at Sopotnik mentioned above and were sentenced to death but for some unknown reason they escaped execution by the Yugoslav authorities.42
The VukKaradžicSchool Massacre (10 May 1992)
On 10 May 1992, the Yugoslav People's Army, various paramilitary groups from Serbia and local Bosnian Serb forces jointly conducted one of the most violent assaults on the Bosniak population of Bratunac and the surrounding villages. Some 4,000 to 5,000 Bosniak civilians were expelled from their homes and detained in the local football stadium ‘Bratstvo’ (Brotherhood). Serb forces stripped Bosniak civilians of their possessions and forcibly separated men from the women, killing some of them on the spot. The youngest known victim was a six month old girl, Narcisa Salihovic, and the oldest a 110 year old woman, Zahida Suljagic.43
A United Nations investigation found that some victims interned in the ‘Bratstvo’ stadium were ‘forced to serve as blood donors, and some did not survive because so much blood had been withdrawn. Reportedly, the bodies of hundreds of individuals have been burned or thrown into the Drina River
Several hundred of women and underage girls were taken from the Bratstvo stadium to the local Hotel Fontana where they were repeatedly raped. Other women and older men were herded onto buses, warned never to come back to their homes again, and forcibly expelled in the direction of the government controlled town of Kladanj.
About 700 unarmed Bosniak men were taken to a detention camp located in the gymnasium of the Vuk Karadžic primary school. When the men arrived in the camp, they were met by the sight of mutilated detainees. The men were offered very salty food with no water. They were brutally tortured over the next few days and some 350 of them were murdered in the most sadistic ways.
Physical abuse at the camp included beatings with objects including wooden sticks, wooden poles, steel pipes, metal bars, baseball bats, rifle butts, bare fists, kicking with boots, extraction of teeth with rusty pliers and suffocation. Some prisoners were decapitated and their heads held up for all to see, then kicked around the floor. Other prisoners were forced to move bodies before eventually being killed themselves and their bodies thrown on the pile. According to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, ‘Witnesses claim that the bodies of those killed were butchered, with nose, ears, genitals cut off, or crosses being cut into them. Those witnesses also claim that while that was being done, they were forced to sing Chetnik songs
The local Muslim priest Mustafa Mujkanovic, was humiliated, tortured and beaten for hours. His throat was cut open in front of other prisoners after he defiantly refused to cross himself, drink alcohol or raise three fingers in the Serb manner (he lifted only two, symbolically asserting the struggle of the Bosniak people for freedom).
The Suha Massacre (10 May 1992)
On 10 May 1992, Serbs attacked and destroyed the Bosniak village of Suha in the nearby municipality of Bratunac. They sexually tortured young women and girls and then killed 38 unarmed Bosniak residents. They dumped their bodies in a local mass grave. Among the 38 exhumed remains were those of nine children ranging in age from 3 months to 11 years, several women and mostly elderly men. One of the victims was the 9-month pregnant Zekira Hrustanbasic (aka: Zekira Begic). When pathologists at the University Clinical Center in Tuzla conducted their examination of the victims' remains, they found the body of her unborn child had been pierced by a bullet.46
The principal suspects of the Suha massacre are Milenko (‘Mungos’) Prodanovic, a former paramilitary leader, and his associate Vujadin Stevic, also known as Dragan. Despite repeated calls for his arrest Prodanovic had still not been charged with any crime and was a member of the Bratunac municipal assembly in 2010.47
Stevic's whereabouts are unknown.
Strategic Objective: ‘Eliminate the Drina’ (12 May 1992)
Meanwhile, on 12 May 1992, at a session of the Bosnian Serb Assembly, Radovan Karadžic announced the six ‘strategic objectives’ of the Serbian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of them was to ethnically cleanse the predominantly Bosniak-inhabited Drina valley, that is ‘[to] establish a corridor in the Drina river valley, that is, eliminate the Drina as a border separating Serbian states.’ The International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) at the Hague found that,
‘The Bosnian Serb leadership, including Radovan Karadžic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Biljana Plavšic, and Nikola Koljevic, understood and intended that the creation of Serbian ethnic territories included the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the separation and the permanent removal of ethnic populations from municipalities designated as Serbian, either by agreement or by force.’48
Furthermore, the Hague Tribunal specifically established that ‘the operative part – that is the actual implementation of the use of force - was directed from Belgrade
Two months later, at the 17th Session of the Bosnian Serb Assembly, held on 24-26 July 1992, Karadžic was more specific as to what he really wanted to do with the Muslims of Bosnia:
‘Neither Serbs nor Croats together can control through the birth-rate the penetration of Islam into Europe, since in 5-6 years Muslims would make 51% of the population of inner Bosnia... There is truth in what Mr Kuprešanin has said, although nobody in Europe will say it openly, that this conflict was roused in order to eliminate the Muslims
The Zaklopaca Massacre (16 May 1992)
Large scale attacks on the Bosniak population of the adjoining municipality of Vlasenica had began on 1 May and continued through June 1992. A number of Bosniak villages in the municipality were burned down including Here, Vrsinje, Zilici, Gerovi, Pomol, Nurici, Bešici, Žutica, Štedrici and Ðile. Many civilians were reported killed, others were captured and interned in the Sušica concentration camp.
One of the worst massacres occured in a small Bosniak village called Zaklopaca. On 16 May 1992, armed Serbs entered Zaklopaca demanding that the civilian residents hand over their weapons. Apart from a few legally-owned hunting rifles, the residents had no weapons, either to attack anyone or to defend themselves with. When the Serbs learned that the residents of the village were effectively unarmed, they blocked all the exits to the village and massacred at least 63 Bosniak men, women and children. A survivor, Nihada Hodžic, described the aftermath of the killings:
‘We dared to step out again, to witness that inferno, the death and destruction of this inevitable storm which plundered our town and raped it of its virtues and good life. We saw dead bodies everywhere. The smell of death permeated the entire town. Dead children, women, men. Bodies everywhere. We were in shock...We saw my eldest uncle (Becir Hodžic) again – in a kneeling position with a cigarette still burning in between his index and middle fingers, his head bowed to the ground, and a puddle of blood next to him – he was dead too. We saw small children with their mothers lying side by side on the ground, motionless, very still – in an eternal sleep. We were told that my father was among the dead too.’51
The Nova Kasaba Massacre (18 May 1992)
Vitkovici is a village in Bratunac municipality where Serbs and Bosniaks had co-existed in a mixed community. On 18 May 1992, the Bosniak villagers were forcibly expelled from Vitkovici and taken to the nearby town of Bratunac. Three days later, they were forced onto buses and told they would be taken to the Sušica detention camp in nearby Vlasenica. Near the village of Nova Kasaba, the buses were stopped and 32 civilians were taken off and shot. Only three survived the massacre and were able to tell their story. The survivors were later able to help in the recovery and reburial of the decapitated bodies of the victims.52
The Borkovac Shootings (20 May 1992)
On 20 May 1992, Serb forces attacked the village of Borkovac, in Bratunac municipality, and captured 14 Bosniak civilians. They tortured their prisoners before shooting them. Among the captives was Amer Ramic and his sister Hamedina. According to Naser Oric's book, ‘Srebrenica Testifies and Accuses,
’ Amer was forced to watch Serb soldiers rape his sister, before they killed her.The survivors identified Novak Stjepanovic (‘Krke’) as the leader of the Serb paramilitary group responsible.53
On 12 November 2009, Stjepanovic was indicted by the State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina on charges of crimes against humanity. The indictment alleges that the accused Stjepanovic ‘participated in torturing of
 detained civilians
’ and ‘in the killing of seven civilians from this group
According to Oric's book, Serbs killed eight Bosniaks that day: Hamid Alic, Halima Alic, Munib Sulejmanovic, Fadil Sulejmanovic, Hajro Hasanovic, Hamed Velic, Meho Avdic and Hamedina Ramic.
The Joševa/Jagodnja Killings (22 May 1992)
On 14 May, the villages of Joševa and Jagodnja in the municipality of Bratunac were attacked from the direction of Skelani and two Bosniak civilians were killed. The attack was repeated on 22 May when another 10 civilians were killed. Without any sophisticated combat weapons, the villagers succeeded against the odds in preventing Serb forces from entering Joševa and Jagodnja by setting up ambushes at all the entrances to their villages. Nevertheless, most of the houses and other buildings in Jagodnja, Joševa and the nearby Bosniak villages and hamlets, were damaged or set ablaze by heavy artillery fire. The nearby village of Zapolje was partially destroyed by shelling from the direction of Serb-held Fakovici. Other Bosniak hamlets and villages in the area suffered co-ordinated attacks on a daily basis.55
The Sase Camp (May 1992 onwards)
While large scale raids were being conducted on Bosniak villages around Bratunac, the Bosnian Serb forces in the municipality of Srebrenica converted the Sase mine and its administrative building into a detention camp where Bosniak civilians from nearby hamlets and villages were imprisoned. Beatings, torture, rapes, and murders were a daily occurrence at the camp.
Court transcripts of the International Criminal Tribunal indicate that ‘many Muslim civilians, including more than a dozen children, were killed’
in this camp.56
Naser Oric, who commanded the defense of Srebrenica, wrote in his book that Serbs killed most of the detainees and then buried them ‘in the sludge deposit of the mine in Sase.
’ He also noted that ‘a large number of the detained girls and women were raped
The head office of the mine was situated in Gradina, an outlying hamlet of Sase. Serb forces took control of Gradina on 21 May 1992, after attacking this undefended hamlet and killing seven Bosniak civilians. Many Bosniak civilians who fled for safety into nearby woods were subsequently captured by Serb paramilitary gangs and brought to the Sase camp. Hundreds of women and underage girls were taken to abandoned Muslim houses outside the camp where they were sexually enslaved and systematically raped by Serb paramilitaries led by Novak Stjepanovic (‘Krke’).58
One of the victims was Edina Karic, who was only 15 at the time. She described her ordeal to the International Criminal Tribunal:
‘...We were raped and abused and beaten throughout the night, and I myself had a gun pointed at my head all the time... I was screaming too much.
She testified that local Serbs were not 'peace-loving' village guards as they liked to portray themselves in their evidence describing the situation around Srebrenica, but ‘...an army with lots of weapons... They were killing, looting, raping, setting houses alight, and they perpetrated a great many crimes.’59
In one incident 51 prisoners were called outside, loaded onto lorries, and sent to be killed. Edina Kari
c testified that ‘there was a lot of screaming in the hall at that stage, and the children started crying and it was terrible. Words are failing me in trying to describe it but it was terrible. People were being pushed onto lorries, and one woman was unable to get on, and she was hit and then thrown on to the lorry.
The Sušica Camp (May 1992 onwards)
On 21 April 1992, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and local Serb forces took control of the town of Vlasenica and rapidly began implementing a policy of ethnic cleansing. The local authorities began arresting prominent Bosniak residents and burning their homes. Over the next several months, as many as 8,000 unarmed Bosniak civilians from Vlasenica, Bratunac and Srebrenica - men and women, young and old, sometimes entire families - were detained in the barbed wire-surrounded Sušica concentration camp, commanded by Dragan (‘Jenki’) Nikolic.61
The detainess were kept in the camp without proper shelter, food, or medicine with the deliberate intent that they die. According to The New York Times, ‘Unlike Nazi camps during World War II, Sušica was a camp in which torture and death were meted out by soldiers on people who had been their immediate neighbors
The International Criminal Tribunal concluded that abuses of civilians in the camp ‘were not isolated acts, but an expression of systematic sadism..
. [amounting to] the highest level of torture. The camp was severely overcrowded and living conditions were deplorable.63
The detainees were treated rather as slaves than as inmates.’64
Prisoners endured beatings with iron bars, metal knuckles, metal pipes, rubber tubing filled with lead, truncheons, axe handles, rifle butts, wooden bats and pieces of timber, along with other forms of physical and mental abuse. Women of all ages were raped or sexually assaulted.65
According to the ‘Association of Families of War Victims in Vlasenica 1992-95
’ between late May and October of 1992, some 1600 Bosniak civilians were killed in the camp.66
A former guard at the camp, Pero Popovic, testified that he ‘personally witnessed, close to 3,000 Bosnian Muslims from around Vlasenica lost their lives at Sušica
In January 1993, Mr. Popovic deserted from the Bosnian Serb army due to ‘his remorse over the eviction and killing of his former neighbors
.’ In 1994, he gave three interviews to The New York Times in which he corroborated earlier accounts of systematic killings of Bosniak civilians in the Sušica concentration camp:
‘Executions of small groups took place within the camp, just outside the hangar used as a barracks, Mr. Popovic said. But large-scale executions -- which generally happened in reprisal for the killing in the war of a local Serb -- were carried out at a nearby ravine called Han Ploca on the road south toward Han Pijesak. Men were loaded into the back of a truck, taken up to the edge of the ravine, about five miles away, and then shot as they got out of the vehicle, he said. Groups of young soldiers were brought in to perform the executions. The bodies fell into the ravine and bulldozers were later used to cover them over. '...In mid-June I witnessed the execution at the ravine of 26 people. One man got away by running down into the woods as he got out the truck. In all, at least 1,000 people were executed up there. At first the executions took place during the day, but later they were all at night.'
The Bosanska Jagodina Massacre (26 May 1992)
On 26 May 1992 about 200 Muslim refugees from Višegrad hoping to reach Macedonia were turned back at the Mokra Gora border crossing when Serbian soldiers refused to let the refugee convoy pass through Serbia.69
As the buses tried to return to Višegrad, armed men halted the convoy in the village of Bosanska Jagodina. A bus company employee saw 17 Bosniak children taken from the buses and executed on the spot. One of the fathers begged to be killed instead of his son, but Serb forces rejected his pleas: ‘'No, you, we will not kill
,' one of the gunman reportedly replied. 'We will kill your son and you will suffer for it
The killers were members of notorious ‘volunteer’ groups from Serbia that operated as part of a local Serb ‘territorial defense’ formation, systematically abducting and murdering Bosniak civilians in the region. The fate of a number of the refugees who were sent back to Višegrad, a town controlled by Serbian paramilitaries, remains unknown.
Air Bombing from Serbia (June 1992 onwards)
For most of 1992, there were still many small patches of Bosniak-held territory scattered across eastern Bosnia, including the villages of Kamenica, Cerska, Konjevic Polje, Velika Glogova, Potocari, Suceska, Osmace and Žepa. All of them were subjected to daily artillery bombardments, but the attacks intensified in June with the introduction of air bombings.
According to Hasan Nuhanovic, a survivor of the siege of Srebrenica and the town’s subsequent fall, four fighter jets from Serbia started bombing the village of Žepa on 5 June 1992 and,
‘After that date, the use of the air force of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a repressive means against civilians in the Žepa, Srebrenica, Konjevic Polje and Cerska region became an almost daily occurrence. The air bombardment caused panic among inhabitants, far greater than the panic caused by the daily tank, artillery and rocket-launcher attacks
Fighter jets flew from Ponikve Airport, near Užice in Serbia, and also from the Batajnica Air Base near Belgrade. Others were based at the airport in Banja Luka in Serb-controlled Bosnia. A relatively slow-flying civilian aircraft used a runway on a farm near Bratunac, some 4 miles away from Srebrenica.
As another survivor of the Srebrenica siege, former judge Mensud Omerovic, testified in the trial of Naser Oric, ‘We were bombed on a daily basis. The centre of Srebrenica was attacked by planes every day and there was constant shelling, particularly from multiple rocket launchers and they would simply drop around 30 to 40 shells in the area of the town at once. It was terrible
Rape as a Weapon of War
The non-governmental organisation ‘Women Victims of War
’ has documented some 25,000 cases of rapes in the Bosnian war, many of them from the region of Podrinje.73
This figure should be considered a conservative estimate, bearing in mind the social stigma associated with rape and the unwillingness of women to come forward and be readily identified as rape victims. Within the Srebrenica region, it was at Višegrad that rape was most obviously, systematically and horrifically used as an instrument of ethnic aggression. The significance of rape in the campaign to eliminate the Bosniak population of Višegrad was recognised only very belatedly in Milan Lukic’s trial before the Hague Tribunal. An attempt to include rape and sexual slavery in the indictment failed on the grounds of inadequate time to prepare a defence.74
It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine in depth the use of rape as a weapon of war in the broad context of the Bosnian war or even in the limited area of Srebrenica and adjoining municipalities of the Central Podrinje. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the rapes perpetrated by Bosnian Serb forces in the Drina valley were more than acts of individual violence committed in the context of conflict and a breakdown of the rule of law. Rape was used systematically as an instrument of terror and demoralisation in order to achieve the political and military goal of securing the permanent removal of the Bosniak population from the area.
Višegrad Massacres (April - June 1992)
Višegrad, an adjoining municipality to Srebrenica, was the scene of systematic rapes, torture and murders of thousands of helpless Bosniak civilians regardless of their age or sex. The scale and ruthless brutality of the murderous campaign of terror waged against Višegrad’s majority Bosniak population included some of the most appalling examples of inhuman treatment and cruelty inflicted on the Bosniak population anywhere in the Srebrenica region. The following sequence of events discusses some of the worst crimes that occured in Višegrad between April and June 1992.
Vilina Vlas Rape Camp (April 1992 onwards)
Of 21 Serb-run rape and torture camps established in the municipality of Višegrad in April and May of 1992, the rape camp at the 'Vilina Vlas' hotel was one of the largest and most brutal. Serb soldiers and members of Milan Lukic's ‘White Eagles’ paramilitary group detained hundreds of Bosniak women and girls and systematically tortured, enslaved, and sexually abused them in the most sadistic ways (for example, raping mothers and their underage daughters together), with the aim of inflicting irreparable psychological damage on the victims and ensuring they would never return to the area. Young and beautiful women were selected and repeatedly raped with the intention that ‘they would bear Serb children
’. Of approximately 200 women and girls imprisoned at the camp, only a handful survived. Many disappeared when the camp was closed after coming to international attention.75
Mehmed PashaSokolovicBridge Massacres (April 1992 onwards)
The Drina River was used to dispose of many of the bodies of the Bosniak civilians killed by Serb forces in the early months of the Bosnian war. The famous bridge on the Drina built by Mehmed Pasa Sokolovic (Sokollu Mehmed Pasa) became emblematic of the suffering of Višegrad’s Bosniak residents. Truckloads of civilians were taken by Serb paramilitaries to the bridge or the riverbank where they were stabbed or shot, and then thrown into the river.
In one instance, when a group of 22 people were murdered on 18 June 1992, Milan Lukic’s men tore out the kidneys of several individuals; in other cases individuals were tied to cars and dragged through the streets and children were thrown from the bridge and shot before they hit the water.76
Hundreds of bodies, including mutilated remains, floated down the Drina and eventually settled in Lake Perucac, the reservoir formed where the river’s flow is dammed by the Bajina Basta hydroelectric power station.
At the time of writing, in September 2010, Lake Perucac was the site of a forensic operation to retrieve these bodies. According to a report published by Balkan Insight, ‘The corpses of about 250 civilians, believed to be victims of the 1992 Višegrad killings in Bosnia, have been found in Perucac lake on the border between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia
The Pionirska Street Live Pyre (14 June 1992)
On the fourth day of the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Adha on 14 June 1992, Milan Lukic’s White Eagles celebrated the Serbian Orthodox holiday of the Holy Trinity by burning to death at least 60 Bosniak women, children and elderly men in a house on Pionirska Street in Višegrad.78
They barricaded their victims in one room of the house, then set the house on fire. The youngest victim was a newborn baby, who according to a witness, ‘one or two days did not have. Tonight is born, burned down tomorrow evening.
’ The witness continued, ‘I am wounded through the left leg and left arm when I jumped out the window, threw out the son of 13 and a half, 14 years. Thus yet another woman. The four of us survived.
Prior to being burned to death, the victims were robbed, forced to strip naked, and then younger women and girls were forcibly taken out and raped before being brought back to die in horrible pain.80
The Paklenik Massacre (15 June 1992)
On the morning of 14 June 1992, an unarmed Bosniak civilian named Ferid Spahic was one of 150 other Bosniak men, women, and children from Višegrad, who boarded two buses in the village of Bosanska Jagodina, thinking they were headed for safety. The buses were stopped in Rogatica where the men and boys (ages 15-60) were separated from the women and children. The men were held against their will overnig