The grotesque death of a city under siege

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The Independent Online

The passage of years has not lessened the sheer horror of what was done in Srebrenica in the minds of anyone who was ever there during that terrible siege.

The passage of years has not lessened the sheer horror of what was done in Srebrenica in the minds of anyone who was ever there during that terrible siege.

In February 1992, after the Serbs had surrounded the town for eight months, I was one of a handful of Western reporters allowed into the town.

Everything we had seen in the Bosnian war paled into insignificance when we saw what the Serbs had been doing to those people.

The town had been relentlessly pounded and starved. It had become a refuge for tens of thousands of Muslims from all over eastern Bosnia and was hideously overcrowded; we found families crouching in the rain in buildings that had no roofs. All food had been diverted to the fighters holding off the Serbs. The civilians were white – or yellow – with malnutrition.

The Bosnian Serb army let nothing in. As a result, the doctors in Srebrenica hospital had no drugs, no disinfectant – not even a bar of soap. The nurses washed the filthy sheets in the icy black waters of the river Drina, under shellfire. I remember one teenage girl who had suffered a shrapnel wound in a field while scavenging for food. Without food or disinfectant she was condemned to a slow death.

After a few hours, the Serbs told us we had to go. The local commanders were furious that their leader, Radovan Karadzic, had ordered us to be let in. They tried to lighten the atmosphere by organising a kitsch ceremony. A group of Serb women dressed in cute national costumes stood smiling goofily and handing out goodies to the reporters. The contrast with the scenes behind the lines was grotesque. Everyone was speechless.

On the way back to Serbia we stopped in a restaurant. Somehow, the diners found out we had been to Srebrenica. "Don't think you people can save the Turks," one of them said with a sneer (they always called the Bosnian Muslims "Turks"). "We'll get them all in the end." He was right. The Bosnian Serb army killed all the men I saw in the town.

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