Bosnian Serb militia steps up campaign of 'ethnic cleansing'

September 05, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Bosnian Serb militiamen stepped up the pace of "ethnic cleansing" in Bijeljina yesterday, driving about 800 Muslims, mostly women, children, and elderly persons, across a battlefront, a Red Cross spokeswoman said.

"They were forced to walk through a no man's land, about two kilometers of woods and fields," said Lisa Jones, the Sarajevo spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, adding that the refugees crossed into government-controlled territory near the village of Djokici, in northeastern Bosnia.

Tension is also rising around Sarajevo, where Serbian fighters have increased small-arms and anti-aircraft fire on trucks and cars along the only supply route into the capital, a mountain road to the suburb of Hrasnica that links up with a tunnel under the United Nations-controlled airport.

U.N. officials said that in two incidents yesterday, snipers fired at peacekeepers near the Olympic speed-skating rink where Pope John Paul II is to celebrate Mass during a visit here scheduled for Thursday.

A U.N. spokesman said the first sniper fire originated from a rebel-Serb position, while the second probably came from a building held by the Bosnian army.

Yesterday morning's expulsions from Bijeljina, the largest from the town since the Serbs first seized it in April 1992, came a day after the Serbs forced about 400 Muslims and members of other minority groups out of Banja Luka, in northwestern Bosnia, Ms. Jones said.

The Serbian militia has uprooted more than 4,000 Muslims from their homes in Bosnia since mid-July, despite protests from the leaders of the Bosnian Serb "republic" and the International Red Cross, Ms. Jones said.

Ms. Jones said the Red Cross had used four-wheel-drive vehicles to ferry elderly people and children from the no man's land outside Bijeljina to a first-aid center behind Bosnian army lines. From there, the displaced persons were being transported to a reception center in Tuzla, she said.

Muslims from Bijeljina said that the "ethnic cleansing" is being carried out by Vojkan Djurkovic, a local Serbian militia leader who collects "fees" from the people expelled.

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