Bosnian town's Muslims say Serbs force them out

February 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

PODGORICA, Yugoslavia -- Assurances by Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav government leaders notwithstanding, gangs of Serbian gunmen have unleashed a new wave of "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia-Herzegovina, expelling about 4,000 Bosnian Muslims from the town of Trebinje and reportedly settling Serbs in their homes.

Groups of uniformed Serbs have gone door to door through Trebinje over the last two weeks, bullying Muslims into abandoning their homes, cars and all their other property, dozens of refugees said.

The refugees, including hundreds of children, now sleep on Red Cross-supplied mattresses on the floors of unheated mosques in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, as well as in private homes, mosques, schools and motels in other towns. New busloads of Muslim families from Trebinje arrived in Podgorica last night.

"I saw Serbian families already starting to occupy Muslim houses," said a 33-year-old peasant woman from Trebinje who arrived by bus Thursday with her two children.

"Men in khaki uniforms with Serbian-flag shoulder patches came to our house," said the woman, adding that she had no intention of moving until someone fired a rocket-propelled grenade into her home. "The men told me they would kill my 3-year-old daughter unless we moved."

At least eight of the Trebinje district's Muslim residents were killed in recent weeks, said the refugees, who all requested anonymity out of concern for relatives who might still be in the town.

"Several hometown Serbs who tried to protect us were killed," said a Muslim mother of two. She said a hand grenade was thrown into her yard last month.

Late last month, six Serbian militiamen clubbed to death a Serb in front of Trebinje's police station when he tried to defend a

Muslim friend who was wounded while fighting in the Serbian army, Serbian newspaper reports and Muslim witnesses said.

Muslim refugees in Podgorica said they saw a link between the new mass expulsions and the release several weeks ago of a map that United Nations negotiators proposed for the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into 10 semi-autonomous provinces.

Most of the Serbian gunmen appeared to be from Mostar, Capljina and other towns that would become part of a Croatian-dominated province under the plan, Muslim refugees in Podgorica said. Trebinje is supposed to fall under a predominantly Serbian province.

Serbs accounted for 69 percent of the Trebinje district's 30,000 people before the fighting began last year, and Muslims 18 percent. Many of the refugees said they were from mixed Muslim-Serb families.

"These Serbs say Trebinje is theirs and that the Muslims must go," said a 35-year-old Muslim, one of the dozens of refugees in Podgorica who were mobilized into the Yugoslav army and fought alongside the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. "They have the map in their hands."

In a news conference early last week, Yugoslavian Information Minister Miodrag Perisic repeated assurances by Bozidar Vucurovic, president of the local district, and other Bosnian Serb officials that the mass expulsions would be stopped.

Muslims in Podgorica, however, said that special police units sent to the town by Bosnian Serb officials did not stop the exodus and that Trebinje's officials had exit permits already stamped and signed by Mr. Vucurovic.

Bosnian Serb militiamen are uprooting thousands of Muslims from their homes in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, U.N. officials said yesterday.

"Muslim villagers in areas of eastern Bosnia are literally being shelled and starved out of their homes," said Peter Kessler, the Zagreb spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He said more than 5,000 people had fled from the towns of Cerska, Kamenica and Zvornik to the Muslim-held city of Tuzla.

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