20,000 still missing in 'zone of death'

REFUGEES; Men were taken to the 'butcher's shop' and their throats were cut
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The Independent Online
The Bosnian Serbs agreed yesterday to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to the Srebrenica area, after widespread allegations of butchery, rape and other human rights abuses inflicted on refugees from the former UN ''safe area''.

There was also increased concern among humanitarian organisations that about 20,000 inhabitants of the enclave were unaccounted for, even after local reports that several thousand had evaded capture by the Serbs and were slipping through the forests towards Tuzla.

The stories give little comfort to the people of Zepa, the enclave to the south, which yesterday was subject to probing attacks by the Bosnian Serbs. The French suggestion of a multinational force to defend the third eastern enclave, Gorazde, was interpreted in Tuzla as the death knell for Zepa.

Peace-keepers in the Zepa enclave were surrounded by Bosnian government troops who clearly did not wish them to leave, seeing them as a form of security.

The refugees from Srebrenica - women, children and the occasional old man - in 1,000 tents along the runway at Tuzla air base, told of men being taken off the coaches in which they had been brought from the enclave to the front line between Muslims and Serbs.

Some told of the men being taken into nearby buildings, when shots were heard - single shots for a small number of men, bursts of automatic fire for larger groups. They spoke of men being taken to the ''butcher's shop'', where their throats were cut.

Many of the reports were second or third hand, but some refugees claimed to have witnessed the events. Many of the witnesses were in a state of confusion and incoherent.

Before the fall of Srebrenica a week ago, there were 37,000 people in the town and 12,000 in villages in the enclave. By 9pm on Saturday, the UN had registered 6,292 in the main camp at Tuzla air base and had placed an estimated 12,000 in outlying camps. That left about 30,000.

Local sources reported that large numbers of refugees stealing through the forest had linked up with front-line Bosnian government troops south- east of Tuzla, in the Kladanj area. Even so, a UN Protection Force spokesman at Tuzla yesterday said, ''There are about 20,000 we cannot account for - primarily male.''

Yesterday morning the UN had successfully contained the Srebrenica refugees in an enlarged and well organised encampment. A dozen or so big cylindrical silver water tanks, 50 metres apart on the edge of the runway, provided water for washing and drinking. In the hot sun, children played and smiled, apparently oblivious to the horrors they had experienced or come close to witnessing.

In the tents, families unpacked boxes of meals ready-to-eat, while Swedish soldiers from the Nordic Battalion handed out blankets.