|Abridged from a report in Liberation, Paris
Monday, 24 July 1995
Marc Semo, Special correspondent, Tuzla.
"I hid among the corpses", claims M.O., who escaped death during the liquidations of Srebrnica prisoners by the Serbs in the village of Karakaj, near the border town of Zvornik.
The young man of 24 years of age, a native of Srebrenica, survived the mass executions of combatants and civilians who fell into Serb hands as they fled the enclave. Only lightly wounded, he remained buried among a heap of corpses, then succeeded in making his way through the Bosnian lines after six days' march across the mountains with two other lucky escapees, H.S., aged 41, and H.
They are the first three direct eyewitnesses to confirm the numerous, if not systematic, massacres of Srebrnica prisoners by the Serbian forces. M.O. described the massacres to two French journalists, including Semo.
M.O. (names are not given to avoid reprisals) left Srebrnica on 11 July along with 10,000 combatants and civilians trying to break through the front lines rather than let themselves be massacred and get out to the areas under Bosnian government control, some 60 kilometres as the crow flies from Srebrenica. They had little food, almost no ammunition and not many more than 900 weapons, several of them old rifles from the Second World War and home-made shotguns. "We had to force our way through all together, although we knew that many of us would not make it".
In the depths of night the escapees succeeded in breaking out of the encirclement near the village of Sunjari. The long march out began but after two days' forced march the column, already partly broken up, was cut off by massive Serbian bombardments near the village of Konjevic Polje. The men on the run, in particular those at the tail end of the column, fled in all directions. "I was in a group of nine men; we were encircled and we surrendered", says M.O.
With dozens of other prisoners, he was then taken to the Vuk Karadzic school, transformed into a detention centre, in the Serbian controlled town of Bratunac, some 20 kilometres north of Srebrenica. "Some of the officers came from Belgrade. I could tell from their accents", he asserts.
The school was jam-packed with prisoners who slept during the night in buses. On the morning of 14 July, the guards told them that they were to be sent towards Kladanj and the Bosnian lines for exchange. "They put us in seven or eight buses and several trucks, they made us crouch doubled over, our heads between our knees". The journey lasted just two hours and convoy ended in a little village near Karakaj.
"We were shoved into a sports hall where there were already 300 people, including a half-dozen adolescents who can't have been more than thirteen years old", says M.O. We were forced to sit with our faces towards the back wall. We called for some water. We were refused it. Some of us whimpered. Others shouted. A man got up and shouted: Don't be afraid, there are too many of us, the Serbs can't do anything to us. Immediately there was a burst of gunfire. A guard said: "Is there anybody else who wants to complain?"
"About an hour later, the Serbs took out a first group of about fifteen men. They blindfolded them and said they were to be taken to Bijelina (a town under Serb control in he north-east of Bosnia). Then other groups were formed; I was in the sixth."
The guards forced the prisoners into a small truck. "With my cousin, we tried to reassure ourselves by saying that they didn't want us to see their military positions", recalls M.O. After five or ten minutes drive, their prison guards made them get off the truck and hit them with rifle butts into two rows.
My cousin said: "It's all over", says M.O. "We all held one another's hands. Then the bursts of gunfire began. My cousin was hit and pulled me down to the ground as he fell. I hid among the dead. The shots continued for a little while. I heard the Serbs shout "Now f... your Turkish mothers!" They had local accents. I heard their footsteps and the revolver shots with which they finished off those who were still moving. The shootings lasted throughout the afternoon and evening". In the middle of the night the Serbs left. "I was there among a sea of corpses. Then I heard a voice. It was H.S., who was still live and coming in my direction. He said: "Let's get out of here!". I was trembling from the cold, and he gave me his jacket and we ran into the hills, without even knowing whether it was towards Serbia or to the free territories. The next morning we found a third survivor". The three men marched day and night, keeping under cover at all times. "To eat, we would stop in burned-out Muslim villages where there were still fruit in some of the orchards". The three escapees moved north-westward, cutting through the forests and avoiding Serbian patrols on four separate occasions. "Towards the end, we could hear the call of the muezzins," he recalls, "in all the village mosques near the front line, in the area of Sapna and Baljkovica, where those fleeing were still arriving, the loudspeakers on the minarets would call constantly to prayer".
In the early morning of 20 July, the three men arrived in the village of N., situated in Bosnian-controlled territory. "We crossed the front lines through the forest without even noticing", said M.O., without encountering any of either their patrols or ours. They were all still asleep. I got right up to a police post. And I began to cry......"
M.O., who was questioned by the Bosnian police and will soon be heard by the UN investigators, says he is willing to guide the representatives of the Hague War Crimes Tribunal to the site of the tragedy. "The mass graves must be found as soon as possible before the grass grows over them."
Contributed [to Internet] by Bernard Meares