Muslim allies betrayed by the Serbs: A shift in ethnic alliances has made pariahs of one group of Bosnians, writes Marcus Tanner in Belgrade

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The Independent Online
'THE CROATS regard us as war criminals, the Muslims say we are traitors, the Serbs have kicked us out, we have nowhere else to go.'

Alongside 4,000 other Muslim refugees 'ethnically cleansed' from their home town in south-east Bosnia last week, the future for this Muslim ex- fighter from the town of Trebinje looks terribly bleak. Unlike almost all other Muslims in Bosnia, those of Trebinje have for the past 10 months been fighting on the Serbian side against their co- religionists.

Until a couple of weeks ago they were manning the trenches with their Serbian neighbours on the frontline with Croat- held Mostar, an example of Muslim- Serb solidarity that was almost unique in Bosnia's ethnic war. But two weeks ago Trebinje's ancient tradition of ethnic tolerance died - it fell victim to the spirit of racial and religious hatred and suspicion that is rapidly sweeping away Bosnia's older loyalties.

In spite of their proven loyalty to the Serbs, Muslim fighters from Trebinje were abruptly recalled from the frontlines and their arms confiscated. Ten days ago the town's Ottoman-era mosque was blown up. The refugees now in neighbouring Montenegro say several Muslims were murdered in their homes.

An influx of Serbian refugees, from towns where the very idea of co-existing with Muslims was unknown and abhorred, has poisoned Trebinje's once- harmonious atmosphere. So have roving armed bands, linked to Serbian militia leaders, including the infamous 'Arkan'. Almost overnight, Trebinje's Muslims were informed by the local Serbian leader, Bozidar Vucurevic, that their previously valued services as fighters were no longer required. 'The safety of Muslims could no longer be guaranteed,' he said. In other words, it was time to leave.

A familiar pattern of 'ethnic cleansing' followed. Muslims were forced to evacuate on the spot, leaving behind all their goods and possessions. 'Some Serbs went systematically from one Muslim home to another,' a refugee in Montenegro told representatives of an international human rights group. 'Some people got 24 hours to get out while others got half an hour. They said, 'Get your nameplate off that front door, we are moving in now.' One man tried to leave by car but he was stopped by armed men. 'You need your head more than your car,' they said as he was yanked out.'

Most refugees left on specially provided buses for Rozaj in Montenegro, for which they had to pay 26 German marks' ( pounds 11) worth of Bosnian Serb dinars - an astronomical sum by Yugoslav standards. Others escaped on foot.

The refugees have told an international human rights body that their allegiance to the Serbian cause was pumped up by the Serbian media. As a minority community in Trebinje, they say, they meekly mobilised alongside the Serbs to save their livelihoods and a centuries- long tradition of Muslim-Serb friendship. Many fought in the ill-fated Serbian campaign against nearby Dubrovnik in autumn 1991.

Now that they have been summarily ditched by their erstwhile Serbian allies, and subjected to lightning 'ethnic cleansing' from the town they lived in for centuries, they have absolutely nowhere to go to. Lodged in temporary accommodation in the hostile atmosphere of Montenegro, these people are stateless.

The refugees said they felt little anger against their Serbian neighbours in Trebinje. 'Some people wept when we were forced to leave,' one man said. But one thing is certain. Montenegro, with its numerous trigger-happy armed bands of Serbian fighters, offers no long-term sanctuary. These Muslims know they will have to go somewhere else. The problem is that neither they nor any one else knows where.

ZAGREB - The party of President Franjo Tudjman of Croatia emerged yesterday with an overwhelming majority in upper house elections, reflecting a strong show of support for his offensive against rebel Serbs, Reuter reports.