Serbs raped 20,000 as a 'weapon of war': EC report describes attacks on women and children to force Muslims from homes, says Leonard Doyle

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The Independent Online
SERBIAN forces in Bosnia have taken part in the organised rape of at least 20,000 Muslim women and girls and are using rape 'as a weapon of war', according to a confidential interim report to the EC Council of Ministers obtained by the Independent.

The report states in detail that 'rape, or the threat of rape' continues to be used to further the policy of 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia by striking fear into the heart of the Muslim community and driving civilians from their homes.

Many victims of gang rapes, including children as young as six and seven, have died from injuries, and the psychological trauma for survivors has yet to be addressed. EC investigators will travel to Bosnia this month to investigate reports that women made pregnant have been held captive to ensure they give birth.

The investigators, who interviewed rape victims in Zagreb and were briefed by officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, were shown 'statements and documents from Serbian sources which very clearly put such actions in the context of an expansionist strategy'.

David Andrews, Ireland's Foreign Minister who was a member of the mission, said in Dublin yesterday that a 'horrifyingly high' number of Muslim women had been raped in the conflict and that 'there was evidence of widespread rape, which formed part of a recognisable pattern, of Muslim women.

'It is clear that at least some of the rapes are being committed in particularly sadistic ways so as to inflict maximum humiliation on the victims.' Mr Andrews added: 'Rape had, therefore, become an instrument and not a by-product of war.' He was asked by the Edinburgh summit to participate in the investigation, led by Dame Anne Warburton, a former diplomat.

Investigators found that daughters are often raped in front of parents, mothers in front of children, and wives in front of husbands. Rapists are often known to victims.

One witness from Miljavina said: 'They were all our neighbours, and they forced me from my house and took me to the house of (a neighbour) who had been shot and killed. And there were four young girls there, young wives and they led each one of them, one by one, into some room and there was nothing that they did not do to us. They beat us, abused us, raped us, they did everything that they wanted.'

The EC report has been circulated to foreign ministers and sent to the UN, which has set up a war crimes commission in Geneva. EC investigators who will travel to Bosnia this month will investigate allegations that Serbian forces methodically raped women in captured Muslim villages, and repeatedly sexually violated children.

Although press reports of organised gang rapes of Muslim women have been circulating since August, international institutions such as the UN Security Council and the EC have only belatedly become involved. The Council adopted a resolution that condemned 'these acts of unspeakable brutality' only after the publication of a welter of testimonies from raped refugees.

The EC report, which Dame Anne advised against publishing, says 'the enormity of the suffering being inflicted on the civilian population is beyond expression'.