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Testimony : A Trio of Women's Voices Bears Witness to the Horror of War and Rape as Yugoslavia Disintegrates

January 31, 1993

The 9-month-old attempt to force "ethnic cleansing" on the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina has produced waves of shocking images. First, the photographs of skeletal Muslim men behind barbed wire in Serbian-held camps and the ruined, beseiged city of Sarajevo, where the onset of winter has made the battle even more deadly. And then reports on the fate of women and children, who compose three-quarters of the estimated 2.5 million people who have been forced from their homes in the conflict. From refugee camps in Croatia, women's groups and human rights workers have gathered stories of the systematic beatings and rapes of young Muslim girls and women, who tell of being separated from families and then enduring numbing levels of violence. Though rapes by Muslim and Croatian soldiers have also been described, the Serbs' use of rape as a weapon of war, say relief workers, is of a different order of magnitude: An estimated 16 Serbian "rape camps" are reportedly scattered through former Yugoslavia, and a report issued early this month by European Community investigators put the number of rape victims at 20,000.

The three interviews that follow are blunt, uncensored accounts, which came to us through United Nations human-rights workers. They were conducted by a Croatian women's group called Tresnjevka and also appear, in part, in the current issue of Ms. magazine.

AZRA, AGE 15

JULY 23, 1992

The sirens went off. We all took cover in our basements and bomb shelters. The shelters were packed with women and children. There was nothing we could do, in the enclosed space, to alleviate the children's fear and crying. We were trapped for two days. On Sunday, they started shelling Kozarac--first the adjacent villages and then the town itself. The shelling lasted 48 hours. The evacuation of the town started on Monday morning. Riding in cars and trucks, we started heading toward the forest. We reached Debeli Brijeg near Brdjani as shells fell around us. We went deeper and deeper into the forest. We spent the night in Vidovici, a Serbian village. The villagers received us kindly, providing food and lodging. They said, "We are all in this together."

The Chetniks (Serbian paramilitary troops), bearded and wearing their typical White Eagle insignia, arrived in the morning. They ordered us to surrender, threatening us with death if we continued our march into the forest. The villagers were silent. They went on with their daily chores, as if nothing had happened.

We started retreating toward Kozarac. At Brdjani, near the mosque, they ordered us to surrender our weapons. They fired shots over our heads, threatened to slaughter us. A detachment of the Yugo Army, accompanied by some Chetniks, led us through the marketplace. They pulled several well-respected people out of the columns. I haven't seen them since.

Kozarac was destroyed. The Chetniks were plundering the homes, firing shots over our heads. One of them, a young man, warned the others: "You are not allowed to fire while these people are being led."

There were signs on the wall--"Free the Autonomous Region of Krajina," "This is Serbia," the four S's (an acronym of a saying that glorifies Serbian cooperation), and so on. They led us to Zika's Inn in Suici; there were corpses on the road. There were corpses, covered with swarms of flies, in ditches near the houses. The odor of death, horror and hopelessness.

The tanks that passed us were transporting the property plundered from our homes. It seemed as if they were taking our whole lives away. They jeered, "Eat shit, Turks. Some Turkish warriors you are." They would stop to search us, confiscating any sharp objects. Whoever had Croatian money, a pistol, ammunition, was beaten, forced to eat the money.

Then they separated the men from the women and children. They took my father away. He was 43. He cried as we were saying goodby. I had never seen him cry before. The rest of my family were Mother, who's 39, my sister, who's 10, and my mentally retarded brother, who's 18. There are no words to describe it. They made us board some buses and transported us to (a prison camp at) Trnopolje. Some of the men stayed with us. The rest were taken to (prison camps at) Omarska and Keraterm. My father was in that group. They didn't take my retarded brother. He was incapable of military service, so he remained with us.

On the third day after we arrived in Trnopolje, it was my turn to fetch some water. My mother had been doing it. The men were not allowed near the well outside the entrance gate, so we provided them with water, too. The men and the women were separated; the camp was divided by barbed wire. We were able to sneak some water to the men through the barrier.

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