Serbs set up numerous rape camps, study says

April 19, 1993|By Newsday

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Using flashlights and torches of lighted paper, the Serbian military police stole through the darkened indoor sports center in search of female victims.

Each night they selected 10 or more Muslim women. The men led them at gunpoint to a nearby house and raped them, witnesses and victims said. One 27-year-old woman told Newsday she was raped up to six times a night. Another woman was raped in the hall in view of the others held there, witnesses said.

The site of these crimes, known as the Partizan sports hall, was in the center of Foca, a small, predominantly Muslim town in eastern Bosnia. At times, it was used as a transit facility for women and children about to be deported from the town. But for two months in 1992, between June and August, it functioned as a rape camp, holding 74 people, including about 50 women.

Partizan was but one of dozens of Serb rape camps in Bosnia -- some are said to be still in operation -- and it was prominently located, next door to the police station. Muslim victims said they complained about the routine raping to the police, but police said they had no power to intervene.

Power in Foca had been seized by three top associates of Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Velibor Ostojic, a minister in Mr. Karadzic's breakaway government, and two other close aides, Vojislav Maksimovic and Petar Cancar, organized the military assault on Foca in April 1992, and took charge of the town, even stationing their own guards in front of the police station.

Until now, reports on "ethnic cleansing" have focused on the men and women who implemented the policy -- paramilitary groups led by self-promoting nationalists from neighboring Serbia aided by local extremists. In Foca, the paramilitaries wore camouflage fatigues and called themselves the "Serbian Guard."

But a three-month Newsday investigation into ethnic cleansing in Foca suggests that those directing the process were members of Mr. Karadzic's inner circle. They called in paramilitary troops to conquer the town and gave the orders to "cleanse" Foca of all non-Serbs, a broad array of witnesses said. They set up concentration camps and rape camps, and on their orders, Serbian forces destroyed the mosques and nearly every other sign of Muslim culture, according to a variety of government and Muslim sources.

Mr. Karadzic said in a telephone interview earlier this week that he had no knowledge of systematic rape anywhere in Serb-conquered Bosnia. "We know of some 18 cases of rape altogether, but this was not organized but done by psychopaths," he told Newsday.

But Mr. Karadzic confirmed that Messrs. Ostojic, Maksimovic and Cancar "influenced the establishment of civilian authorities" at the time of the military assault one year ago and took control of Foca.

Mr. Karadzic has been described as a possible war criminal by former U.S. Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger.

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