Bosnian Serbs rush to expel Muslims

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The Independent Online
BOSNIAN Serb forces are expelling Muslims from their homes in increasing numbers in an apparent attempt to seal their territorial conquests before a possible lifting of the United Nations arms embargo, UN and Red Cross sources said yesterday. The worst affected towns are Bijeljina and Janja in north-eastern Bosnia, where since late July Bosnian-Serb authorities have forced several thousand Muslims to renounce their possessions before herding them across front lines.

The expulsions, or acts of 'ethnic cleansing', are being organised in the same way in which Croats and Muslims have been driven from their homes in Serbian-controlled areas of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina since late 1991. But the pace of the expulsions has gradually picked up since the United States made plain its intention of asking the UN Security Council to lift the embargo.

The Bosnian Serbs control about 70 per cent of the republic and have rejected a Russian plan, endorsed by Serbia, which would reduce their holding to 49 per cent while allocating 51 per cent to a Muslim-Croat federation. The Clinton administration has said it will request an end to the arms embargo if the Bosnian-Serbs do not accept the peace plan by 15 October. Red Cross officials said at least 6,000 Muslims had been expelled from Bijeljina and Janja since last September, but about half of these had been driven out in the last two months. The homes of many Muslims have been occupied by Serbian refugees in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to reshape the ethnic make-up of towns.

Time and again, the name that crops up in connection with the expulsions is that of Vojislav Djurkovic, also known as 'Vojkan'. He is the head of the sinisterly named State Exchange Commission in Bijeljina, an institution devoted to the tasks of stripping Muslims of their possessions and money and evicting them from their homes.

One Muslim woman who left Janja last week said: 'Soldiers came and fired shots at our front door, and we knew we had to go. The last thing we did was to go to Vojkan, give him the keys to our house and sign a paper saying that we would never come back.'

The Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, has blamed 'rogue elements' for the expulsions, but UN and Red Cross sources say that his denials of official complicity lack credibility. The involvement of Mr Djurkovic, and the fact that the expulsions follow a pattern seen repeatedly over the last three years, point to a methodical, officially encouraged campaign.

The latest expulsions have coincided with a joint Bosnian-Serb and Croatian-Serb invasion of Bihac, a Muslim enclave in northwestern Bosnia. Bosnian-Serb forces fired hundreds of shells at Muslim units in the enclave in the 24 hours up to yesterday morning, UN officials said.