600 Muslims forced from Bosnian town

September 10, 1994|By New York Times News Service

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The Bosnian Serbs, stepping up a 29-month campaign to purge Muslims from the territory they hold, have forced nearly 600 Muslim civilians from the northwestern town of Bijeljina across the front line into the government-held town of Tuzla, an International Committee of the Red Cross official said yesterday.

Lisa Jones said the forced evictions Thursday night brought the number of Muslims expelled from the Bijeljina region since July 15 to 3,000. Earlier this year, it was estimated that 6,000 Muslims still lived in the region, compared with a pre-war population of more than 30,000.

The refugees arriving in Tuzla complained of being beaten and abused by the Bosnian Serbs, and said 100 Muslim men of fighting age had been taken away to an unknown destination, Red Cross and United Nations officials said.

The accounts corresponded exactly with a pattern established early in the war by the Bosnian Serbs: the rounding up of Muslim civilians, the execution or long-term detention in camps of young men, and the expulsion across the lines of women, children and older men. The process has led to the death or departure of several hundred thousand Muslims from eastern, northern and northwestern Bosnia.

The evictions followed a meeting this week between the top U.N. civil affairs official in the former Yugoslavia, Sergio de Mello, and Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic. At the meeting, Dr. Karadzic promised to stop the evictions, which he blamed on rogue elements beyond his control.

However, Dr. Karadzic's promise -- like several he has made before -- had no visible effect.

Moreover, his attempt to attribute the incidents to uncontrollable militia was consistent with a stance both he and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic have persistently adopted: that is, the passing of blame for an apparently highly coordinated and centralized campaign to individuals and groups allegedly beyond their control.

Cornelio Sommaruga, the president of the International Red Cross, made an unusual appeal to world leaders Wednesday to intervene to stop the expulsions. But Ms. Jones said it appeared from the refugees' testimony that the evictions would continue.

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