WASHINGTON -- The United States has obtained reliable information that "as many as 3,000" Muslim men, women and children were killed in May and June at Serbian-run detention camps near the Bosnian town of Brcko, several senior Bush administration officials said yesterday.
Reports of mass killings in Bosnia have been circulating since July, but administration officials said that this was the first time that they had developed independent information corroborating such reports.
The officials said the United States turned over evidence to the United Nations this week detailing alleged war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger said this week that Washington was supporting a U.N. resolution to create a war-crimes commission.
Yesterday, Mr. Eagleburger told reporters that the United States had heard other "disturbing reports," which it is in the process of investigating. "If in fact they prove to be true, we want to move the resolution as fast as we can," he said.
He did not publicly describe the new evidence. But administration officials who insisted on not being identified said it pertained to new information on the killings at Brcko.
"We believe we have good information," a senior administration official said. "It needs to be looked into some more, and we are turning the information over to the U.N. Human Rights Commission for investigation. It leads to the conclusion that in various camps and detention centers in May and June as many as 3,000 people were killed."
The new information on the killings is based on interviews with survivors and other intelligence sources. The officials said that the information indicated that most of the killings occurred during May and June, when Serbian forces took over and occupied the town of Brcko.
The officials said they believed the Serbs moved into Brcko in April, taking over a police station and dismissing the Muslim policemen and other Muslim officials. Roving bands of Serbs then went through the town arresting and detaining the Muslims.
The Muslims were held in a number of centers. Some were held in a brick factory and others were kept in a pig farm. The conditions in the detention camps were bad and the Muslims were beaten and tortured.
The officials said that according to some accounts, as many as 50 Muslims were killed at a time. The bodies were reportedly transported at night. Some were said to have been dumped in the nearby Sava River, others buried in a mass grave. Other bodies were destroyed at a rendering plant, where animal remains are boiled to produce lard.
One U.S. official said the Serbian forces believed to be responsible for the killings were controlled by two warlords. One was identified as Zeljko Raznjatovic, a Serbian leader who is known by the nickname Arkan and is wanted in a number of Western European countries for bank robbery. The other was identified as Vojislav Seselj, a nationalist militia leader from Serbia.
"They lead the shock troops of ethnic cleansing," a government LTC expert said, using the term by which Serbian forces in Bosnia have described a campaign to expel non-Serbs from large areas of Bosnia.