Detention camps used for torture and killing: In the wreckage of Yugoslavia: US confirms Serbs have been murdering prisoners - Croatian voters shun extremists

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The Independent Online
SARAJEVO (Agencies) - The United States yesterday confirmed the existence of Serbian detention camps where torture and killings had taken place, but a State Department spokesman refused to discuss whether these abuses would lead to Western military intervention.

The spokesman, Richard Boucher, described the killing of two orphans and the removal of nine others from a refugee bus fleeing from Sarajevo as 'a horrible tragedy'. The children, who were targets of a sniper attack on Saturday that killed a Serbian girl and a Muslim boy, were removed by Serbian police who said they believed the nine were all Serbs. Their removal appeared to be linked to a Serbian nationalist campaign for ethnic purity in Bosnia.

Mr Boucher told reporters: 'We do know from our own reports - information similar to the press reports - that Serbian forces are maintaining what they call detention centres for Croatians and Muslims. There have been abuses, torturing and killings taking place in those centres.'

Washington had 'reports of Bosnians and Croatians maintaining detention centres, but we do not have similar allegations of mistreatment at those'. The US was 'deeply concerned', and condemned anew a process the Serbs have called 'ethnic cleansing'.

But Mr Boucher said the US had no special plans - such as calling a meeting of the United Nations Security Council - to try to make an issue of the detentions. When pressed, he asked rhetorically: 'Are we going to drop paratroops on it?'

The first official US confirmation of the existence of detention camps came as a UN agency in Sarajevo disclosed that on 23 July it had discovered 589 Muslim men held in a stadium in Bosanski Novi, near the Bosnian border with Croatia. Peter Kessler, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said that Serbs had taken 15 Muslim prisoners to a hotel two days earlier, and apparently had beaten them. 'They have not been seen since,' he said. The prisoners, who were shut into the changing rooms at night, were evacuated to Karlovac in Croatia with 6,500 others, Mr Kessler added. The camp was the only one the UNHCR could be certain about.

The busload of children, sent out of Sarajevo, was reported late last night to be approaching the end of its journey at Split, Croatia. Anton Guenther Cromme, spokesman for the German state of Saxony-Anhalt, said the bus was believed to be 19 to 25 miles from Split, where a plane was waiting to take the children to Germany.

Meanwhile the mentally retarded mother of Vedrana Glavas, one of two children killed by a Serbian sniper, said she was never even told of her daughter's death by authorities. Neighbours told her about Veran's death on Sunday morning after they heard about it on Sarajevo radio. The orphanage made no contact.