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THE NEW TRIBALISM: Defending Human Rights in an Age of Ethnic Conflict : Case Study: Bosnia-Herzegovina : A Tragic Portrait of Civilization Gone Wrong : 'Ethnic cleansing,' torture and killing feed a hopeless cycle of violence and revenge in the war-torn republic.

June 08, 1993|CAROL J. WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Hamed Celik's punishment for being a Muslim was to become a human minesweeper.

First, Serbian nationalist gunmen held him for four months in a concentration camp in his home city of Foca, where he was systematically starved and haunted nightly by the screams of fellow prisoners being beaten to death. Then, the 57-year-old Celik was taken to the town of Kalenovik for front-line duty traversing mountain paths to ensure they were safe for Serbian troops.

"I saw one colleague from the Foca hospital blown up as he walked ahead of me," the former ambulance driver recalled, his gaunt face flush with emotion. "I was lucky. I said to myself each time, 'Only God can save me!' And he did, because I was never wounded."

Celik and four other Muslim prisoners were released in March in exchange for a Serbian gunman captured at the front line that encircles this shattered capital.

He now waits at his daughter's home here for word from his wife, who fled the Foca terror for Denmark. Recovering in the relative comfort of this besieged and bedraggled capital, Celik is helping Sarajevo officials gather evidence for possible war crimes trials of the sadistic rebels who ran the prisons in Foca and Kalenovik.

If an international tribunal to hear Bosnian war crimes is ever established, as called for by the U.N. Security Council, it is expected to be flooded with demands for prosecution of extremists from all sides. The past 14 months have been tragically replete with cases like Celik's.

Since a nationalist fever broke out in the Balkans with the rise to power of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the peoples of the former Yugoslav federation have amassed a catalogue of human rights abuses. This war-torn republic stands as a portrait of civilization gone wrong--a worst-case scenario of man's failure to respect his fellow man.

The war in Bosnia has brought to world attention both reminders of past inhumanity and violations of human dignity unique to this shockingly savage conflict.

The term "ethnic cleansing," coined by Serbian nationalists in Belgrade to mean the forced displacement of non-Serbs, has been added to the euphemistic lexicon of zealotry, joining the Nazi allusion to the Holocaust as the "final solution" and communism's cover for all manner of abuse with its labor camp sentences for "re-education."

More than 2 million Bosnians--most of them Muslims civilians--have been uprooted from their homes by warfare and ethnic cleansing, forcing many into dreary and poorly supplied refugee camps where they wait, idle and hungry, for an end to the seemingly unstoppable war.

The technique of ethnic cleansing has been applied in a systematic manner throughout Serbian-occupied areas of the republic. The rebels broadcast demands for surrender of any weapons held by non-Serb civilians, who usually comply in areas where their numbers are too small to confront the heavily armed intruders. Men of fighting age, from 16 to 60, are then rounded up and taken off in trucks and buses for "questioning," just before the surrounding artillery begins pounding the target area to drive women and children away. The attackers then move in for house-to-house searches to evict defiant stragglers.

Empty homes are then looted of the most valuable possessions and often burned to ensure that the displaced never return.

Destruction of cultural and religious monuments has been pervasive in all areas of Bosnia under Serbian and Croatian control.

Ancient mosques that stood in the heart of integrated cities like Bosanski Brod, Bijeljina, Zvornik and Banja Luka have been bulldozed into oblivion and the rubble carted away to get rid of the evidence.

Croatian extremists who have prevailed along the volatile Neretva River valley have done likewise to the Serbian Orthodox churches that once graced the eastern bank.

At Zitomislici, site of a 600-year-old monastery that was a sacred treasure of the Balkan Serbs, blasted stone and wood tumble toward the teal-blue waters of the Neretva from the hillside perch where monks only two years ago reburied eight of their World War II-era brothers who had been slaughtered by Croatian fascists and dumped in a nearby cavern. The walled monastery, the black-marble memorial, an icon-lined chapel and even the garlic garden on which the monks and nuns earned a meager living have been reduced to ruins.

By such acts of displacement and destruction, Bosnian Serbs have gained exclusive control of 70% of the republic, and the Croats, now matching the instigators' aggression in kind, hold the rest except for six miserable enclaves where the Bosnian Muslims have been herded along with other opponents of segregation.

The tens of thousands of Muslim men detained by Serbian gunmen in Bosnia last spring and summer have mostly been released, under pressure from Western human rights organizations. But untold numbers remain missing from the rolls maintained by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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