Bosnian Muslim soldier corroborates killing of civilian Serbs

December 14, 1992|By Newsday

SERDARI, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The resistance fighters swept out of the forest just before dawn, encircled the village and demanded its surrender. Then they attacked and, in the course of battle, burned most of the houses and killed the women, children and old people, according to a Muslim participant.

The account by Edib Menzic, a Muslim soldier who has since left the region, is the first corroboration of the claim by Bosnian Serbs that Muslim and Croat fighters committed an atrocity against civilians near the north Bosnian town of Kotor Varos.

Interviewed in the offices of the semi-independent Bosnian war crimes investigation center in Zenica, Mr. Menzic, 24, described the Sept. 22 attack on Serdari as the only occasion that he was aware of in which Muslims and Croats had assaulted a Serbian village.

Serbian officials in Bosnia paint a very different picture. They have maintained that Muslims and Croats have committed genocide against Serbs, a claim for which there has been no corroboration. The Serdari incident is one of the few in which Muslims have acknowledged responsibility for an atrocity.

Mr. Menzic, a Bosnian Muslim, said, "At least 15 of our villages were burned by Serbs."

He said a Muslim soldier, whom he would not identify, had executed the women and children inside one house and that he had been disciplined by the attack force.

Ragit Hadzic, head of the Bosnian Muslim war crimes center, said of the Serdari attack, "It is a war crime, and it will be treated as such." But he contended that there was "a big difference between organized evil and an occasional case of revenge."

Mr. Menzic said Serdari, a hamlet consisting of one street, eight houses and assorted barns and garages, had been "an arms warehouse" and was defended by at least 18 men. The raiding party consisted of 50 men from several nearby Muslim and Croat villages, he said.

"We circled every house. We called on every man to surrender," he said. But the Serbs opened fire with light arms and a Yugoslav-made machine gun, he said.

The resistance fighters carried light arms and a bazooka, which was used to blast a hole in the house where the machine-gunner was hiding, he said.

Mr. Menzic said all of the women, children and old people had gathered in one room of one house and that the invading force encircled it. "We told them we would do them no harm," he said.

Suddenly, they heard three detonations from inside the house. Mr. Menzic said someone apparently had exploded three grenades. A Muslim soldier went inside and saw 10 to 15 people still alive. "He killed all the wounded," Mr. Menzic said.

Mr. Menzic also said 17 male defenders of the village were killed and that one got away, while two attackers were killed.

Although the assault force left after three hours and did not find the hidden arms, the village was kept under surveillance for several days and Serb forces were seen removing large quantities of rockets, grenade launchers and ammunition from an underground bunker, Mr. Menzic said.

The Serbian authorities' version is that the village, on the edge of a forest where guerrillas were known to operate, was undefended and unarmed, and that the Muslim-Croat force went in deliberately to kill women and children. They said 17 civilians were killed, two were captured, and two escaped.

The Serbian officials also played a tape of a reputed radio conversation in which Muslims and Croats bragged about their conquest. But, Mr. Menzic said Muslim and Croat resistance forces had had no radio contact because they had no electricity and could not charge their batteries.

Serdari is part of Kotor Varos, a community of 36,000 nestled in a river valley. The area has been the scene of bloody terror since June 6, when local Serbs, who made up 38 percent of the population, seized power.

Reliable Muslim sources estimated that Serbs killed as many as 1,100 Muslims and Croats in the "ethnic cleansing" that ensued as they sought to clear non-Serbs from the area. International observers said that estimate appeared reasonable.

The new Serbian rulers say they have no idea whether that is true. "We don't have that data," said the newly installed Serbian mayor, Nedeljko Djekanovic.

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