Hellhole where men live like fearful chickens

Robert Fisk finds a sinister prison under Serb control
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The Independent Online
We could not take pictures of the prison camp commanders. Nor could we photograph the 60 fresh Muslim graves just inside the entrance. When we went to talk to the 450 prisoners - some of them appeared to be in their 70s - they turned away in fear or whispered, as one old man did: "I cannot speak."

Sinister was not the word for it; Dubrava, where the men live in chicken coops and performed hard labour under armed guard, looks like a hellhole. It stands on a low hill outside Velika Kladusa, so close to the gun-line of the Serbs and their Muslim allies that the shells howl overhead, and scarcely half a mile from an encampment of the UN protection force in Serb-held Croatia.

Dubrava is in Bosnia and thus outside the mandate of the Croatian-based UN troops. According to the Serbs, and to the officers of their Muslim allies of the "National West Bosnian defence force", all the men in Dubrava were captured during the offensive to retake Velika Kladusa from the Bosnian government army's Fifth Corps, a battle that is still going on scarcely a mile from the camp.

These were all soldiers in the Fifth Corps and if they have not committed any crimes, they can go free, the tall camp official insisted.

Of the pale-faced prisoners, at least half appeared to be over 50, several in their 70s, white-haired and wizened, stooping when they walked. A few had khaki caps but most wore old jeans and torn shirts; they looked like the Muslims I saw in the Manjaca camp in central Bosnia 30 months ago; cowed and frightened. When the Manjaca men were released, they talked of nightly murders by their guards and the rape of their kidnapped wives.

When we asked whose graves lay inside the camp entrance, another officer, who also said he was a Muslim loyal to the army of the Serbs' Muslim ally, Fikret Abdic, we were told, at first, that they were Abdic's dead soldiers, buried there by their families. Then another camp officer said the dead included both Abdic's men and soldiers of the Bosnian 5th Corps who had "been killed in the fighting". Half the graves bore no names.

The prisoners were either standing to attention or digging earth around the camp perimeter, actions which, presumably, they had been told to undertake when we arrived. I had earlier seen prisoners from Dubrava clearing boulders from a main road near by .But the camp's officers said that they maintained the highest international standards for prisoners. We were shown a house heated by a log fire with several young men sitting on barrack-room beds.

There can be no doubt that some of the guards were Muslims, watching over their co-religionists, some of them from the very same towns. One camp officer pointed to a gaunt, 29-year- old prisoner, who gave his name to us as Semir Javaragic, and announced they had been to school together in Bihac town.

Above the gates of the Dubrava prison camp, a white flag announces the camp is run by Mr Abdic's Muslim "Defence Force". But a soldier in the uniform of a Serb officer visited the camp in our presence and Serb soldiers guarded the road which led to Dubrava. Why did the Serbs and their Muslim allies let us see this camp? To persuade us that they are winning the battle for the Bihac pocket? To demonstrate these prisoners are not being maltreated?

"They are better looked after than our refugees in Batnoga," the tall camp officer announced as we left. "Write that in your newspaper."