Humble pickings as victors plunder Muslim enclave: Marcus Tanner visits Kamenica, which has fallen to Serbian forces after a 10-month siege

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The Independent Online
NO United Nations food convoys will get to Kamenica now. The tiny Muslim enclave in eastern Bosnia fell to encircling Serbian forces at the weekend, broken by a gruelling 10-month siege and a lack of weapons and food.

Serbian fighters celebrated their triumph over Kamenica yesterday by escorting foreign journalists to a mass grave. At the top of a hill, half a mile from the village, the group of Serbs clutched handkerchiefs to their noses while they dug up the rotting corpses of about 40 local Serbs, allegedly killed in November last year by Muslims from Kamenica. Laid out in rows in the winter sunlight, the bodies began to thaw at last after months spent in frozen mud.

The diggers said the dead Serbs were locals who had been tortured before they were killed, hanged, even burnt alive. But the killings happened so long ago and most of the bodies were so decomposed that it was hard to tell whether allegations of torture were true.

One corpse was headless. Another man's feet were bound by wire. Traces of khaki uniforms in the mud suggested the bodies were not those of civilians but of soldiers, perhaps caught in a Muslim ambush. One digger, Rade, was searching for the body of his brother. He disappeared three months ago during a Serbian raid into Kamenica's hills.

The UN promised to deliver food and medicine to the hungry Muslims of Kamenica and the neighbouring Muslim enclave of Cerska two weeks ago. But they never made it to Kamenica and now it is too late. Stalled by the Bosnian Serbs for a variety of unconvincing reasons 10 miles away at Zvornik, on the Bosnian-Serb border, the UN food convoy has lain idle for four days.

Kamenica today is a ghost town marked by signs of recent life. Fresh washing blew in the wind on the lines. Some fields on the edge of the village looked as if they had been tilled as recently as last weekend. Notices flapped on the billboard of the village hall. The village mosque was a pile of rubble. Following standard practice, the Serbs blew it to pieces after seizing the village. Kamenica's several thousand Muslim inhabitants have disappeared without trace. Perhaps they are hiding in the wooded hills across the valley; or seeking an uncertain refuge in Cerska.

The business of burning and looting Muslim homes was under way. Smoke wafted from houses set on fire that day. Most were already cold, blackened shells. The Serbs have no intention of moving in to Kamenica, but want to make sure the Muslims never regain their homes. Outside the charred houses, groups of Serbian peasants from neighbouring villages carted off the humble pickings they had snatched before the houses were set on fire. One man staggered away with a washing machine, a paraffin lamp and a kettle. An old man merrily wheeled away his prize - a refrigerator - on a barrow.

From the graves on the top of the hill the sound of Serbian mortar shells pounding Cerska echoed round the valley. The ferocity of the bombardment - outgoing shells exploded every few seconds - left no doubt that the Serbs are determined to finish off Cerska in the next few days, before international pressure on them to allow in a UN food convoy becomes unbearable.

For three weeks the Bosnian Serbs have blocked all UN aid convoys destined for Muslim towns and villages in the east of the republic. Now in possession of Kamenica, they may become even more opposed to letting in UN convoys. Ham radio appeals from the Muslim defenders of Kamenica before it fell claimed the inhabitants were starving.

At the bridge over the River Drina, between Bosnia and Serbia, Larry Hollingsworth, the British leader of the UN convoy for Cerska, digested the news of Kamenica's fall in silence. An experienced convoy leader, he had no illusions about why the Serbs were determined to stop his cargo of food from reaching the wretched Muslims of eastern Bosnia. 'They do not want to let us in until they have captured these enclaves,' he said. 'They are using every excuse to hold us off, until they have done what they want to do with Cerska.'

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