Abdic rebels find cold comfort in ruined town

Emma Daly in Velika Kladusa finds the Serbs' Muslim allies are ruing a Pyrrhic victory in north-west Bosnia

The Bosnian war has come late to the people of Velika Kladusa, a small town tucked in the north-west Bihac pocket on the border with Serb-held Croatia. For most of the war, Velika Kladusa, the only town in the "Autonomous Province of Western Bosni a", the rebellious fiefdom of the Muslim entrepreneur, Fikret Abdic, went about its business, more or less unscathed.

But, last August, the Bosnian government Fifth Corps took the town, prompting about 30,000 Abdic loyalists to flee. Four months later, the tide turned and the exiles came home to taste the bitter fruits of victory - looted houses, no running water, humanitarian aid, power cuts and a 2pm curfew. Still, they say they are happy to be back.

The main street and park, bearing the occasional shell mark but otherwise unscarred, are thronged with people carrying water containers, children mooching, the occasional car or horse-drawn cart. Many of the women gathered around the water-tanks providedby the UN and the Red Cross are dressed in long gathered skirts, rubber shoes, and headscarves, their faces stoical and without expression.

"Yes, I'm pleased to be back but I've lost the only son I had," said Saha Catic, a middle-aged woman, waiting for water.

"He was killed last November, and so was my son-in-law, by the Fifth Corps. I have nothing left but his child, three-year-old Alma, and his widow." Close to tears, she pondered her situation, the war and Mr Abdic. "I don't know what I think. For me, nothing counts any more."

The atmosphere was sullen in spite of bright sunshine - the result of queuing for water, perhaps, or of a sense that their victory was Pyrrhic. At 1.55pm, the streets started to empty, people began to run home, afraid of being caught out after curfew. By2.10pm, it was a ghost town, deserted save for the military police on duty in the main square.

Officially there are no Serbian forces in Velika Kladusa. Officially, the town was retaken from the battle-hardened Bosnian Fifth Corps by the 10,000 members of the "People's Defence of Western Bosnia" - Mr Abdic's army of refugees. It is surprising, therefore, to see the Serbian acronym "SSSS" (Only Unity Saves the Serbs) in Cyrillic on a soldier's rifle.

"There has been a lot of speculation about the involvement of the Serb Krajina army and the Bosnian Serb army, but they have no physical presence or involvement here," said Ramo Hirkic, the "Minister for Economy". "That's done on purpose, so as not to minimise the contribution of our units."

Across the room, a joyful Fikret Abdic gazes out from a portrait bearing the legend "I am here". It is not strictly true. Mr Hirkic is in charge, although his leader, he says, is "somewhere on the free territory of Western Bosnia". That has shrunk since August 1993, when Mr Abdic rebelled against Sarajevo, made peace with the Bosnian Serbs and directed his business talents towards the promotion of trade with Zagreb and its enemies, the Croatian Serbs.

"We have had logistical support from the Krajina Serb army - food, clothes and training - but we are paying for that," Mr Hirkic said. "There is no [Serbian] artillery support; we have our own artillery."

This is not how the United Nations observers see the situation. "There is absolutely no question about the Krajina Serb presence," said one official. "They are very much involved. All the firepower is provided by the Krajina Serbs. Abdic has no military power. Abdic does not have an army worth the name - just bandits."

A Krajina Serb officer denied his army was active in Bihac but added: "I believe there are some [Serbian] hired guns in Kladusa." It is difficult to prove Krajina Serb involvement, other than artillery support, which is obvious. Most of the shelling comes from Serb-held areas.

On the border between Serb-held Croatia and Velika Kladusa, military jeeps cross regularly and are not subject to searches.

"The best evidence is the casualties," the UN official said. "Eighty per cent of those killed [in the fight for Velika Kladusa] were Krajina Serbs. And at body exchanges, the majority have been Krajina Serbs."

UN staff have reported Serbian disillusionment with Mr Abdic and a feeling that his forces are unworthy of their help. Without Serbian support, it will be difficult for Mr Abdic to defend his fiefdom.

"Our military says the Fifth Corps could come back and take Velika Kladusa at any time, if they want it," the UN official said.

This is a grim prospect for the thousands who fled earlier to a sordid chicken farm at Batnoga, or the dour and dangerous no man's land at Turanj - who spent nearly five months at the two makeshift refugee camps in Krajina and thought they were coming home for good.

"We have endured so much, we can stand this too," said Jolanda Niksic, as she queued for water. "We've survived so much we can't be destroyed by anything." War and exile have hardened the people of Velika Kladusa but, without the help of Mr Abdic's Serbian allies, they remain horribly vulnerable. The dream of "Western Bosnia" lies dead and buried in the rubble of Velika Kladusa.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice