First voices from a town silenced by Serbs' three-year siege

'The way out of Srebrenica was guaranteed ... and you know what happened there'

THE OLD woman rummaged through a small white fridge and emerged triumphant with three colour snapshots - a grandson, a son-in-law, two daughters - her only reminder of the dozens of relatives, including three children, in Sarajevo. Haska Salman is 85; she has survived two world wars but she says this, Bosnia's bloodshed, is worse.

Mrs Salman lives in Gorazde, the last enclave to survive in eastern Bosnia, where the rebel Serbs cut a furious swathe, killing thousands of Muslims and expelling hundreds of thousands more. Mrs Salman was lucky: only a few of the elderly remained in Splaviste, a hamlet taken and lost twice by the Serbs, but at least one of her neighbours was taken away, never to be heard from again.

She was merely forced to abandon everything and pick her way across a half-bombed bridge. "At the bridge I wondered if I should kill myself so I would not have to see Bosnia's pain," she said. But Mrs Salman, like her new neighbours, is a survivor.

For more than three years Gorazde, a dusty town of no pre-war importance, has lived in limbo; coveted by the Serbs for the road that runs through it, clung to by the Muslims as the last pocket of faith in a ruined landscape. Out of sight - the Serbs made it virtually impossible for journalists to visit - it makes news only when under threat, be it direct attack by the Serbs or the roundabout dangers of a peace proposal that suggests exchanging Gorazde for territory elsewhere.

The London Conference last summer made much of the politicians' desire to protect Gorazde from the fate of Srebrenica and Zepa; then the British Government withdrew the 350 soldiers who were sent in after the Serb offensive in April 1994 to deter further attacks. In Sarajevo, many are so bitter at the UN's failures that they refuse to admit its vital role in Bosnia's survival. In Gorazde, which so many outsiders felt had been abandoned by the UN, every foreigner is greeted with delight.

"If it had not been for the UN, Gorazde would probably not have survived," said Adisa Alikadic, a young woman whose main entertainment is playing with her 16-month-old nephew, Kemal. "The humanitarian convoys brought us food and everything. . ." Not quite: until lastweek, the Serbs refused to allow aid agencies to import anything but flour, oil, beans and rice.

Everyone wears hand-me-downs or, if they are rich, clothes smuggled in along a mule track from Sarajevo; their meagre diet is spiced with chillies grown in window boxes and supplemented by the occasional cabbage or apple from the farmland around.

Under the US brokered cease-fire, the Serbs agreed to allow civilian traffic escorted by the UN to pass unimpeded along the road to Sarajevo, 55 miles away. But as usual, there are a fewhitches - and a lot of fear. Soldiers manning the checkpoints are reluctant to allow convoys to pass freely - not only is there a war on, but they are steeped in the communist belief that travellers should justify their journey; who knows what anarchy might spring from freedom of movement.

Our convoy, which included the US ambassador to Bosnia, John Menzies, was halted for 10 minutes while a Serb soldier asked to see our ID. "That's all the identification we need," said an American security man, pointing at the Stars and Stripes flying from Mr Menzies armoured car. Even protected by several inches of reinforced glass and steel, a heavily armed escort and foreign passports, we felt a little nervous. No wonder few in Gorazde were making the journey, desperate as they are for contact with the outside world.

"Perhaps I would go alone," Ms Alikadic said dubiously, "but not with the baby." On the way home we drove through Stijenice, home of Mustafa Milic, who lives with his wife in what was the janitor's office at a closed Gorazde primary school. "I want to go back to Sarajevo to be with my five children," Mr Milic said. "The road is very important - it's a sign that peace is coming."

But would it be safe? "No. The way out of Srebrenica was guaranteed [by the Serbs and the UN] and you know what happened there. When the TV cameras were around, the people were OK. When the cameras left, they began to die. . ." His wife, Nurka, added: "If we were sure, we would go right now." Mrs Salman, who keeps the few clothes she has been given and a black handbag in the redundant fridge, is a prime candidate to use the route out. She has no family in Gorazde, and lives with a young woman in a small flat heated by a wood-stove.

Two world wars have paled in comparison to the bloodshed in Bosnia. "In this war many people have been killed, many girls raped. Everything has been done more cruelly than in the other wars," she said. As Dr Alija Begovic, director of the shell-scarred hospital on the east bank of the Drina river, said: "What really hurts people is the manner of making war. It's quite inhuman." He was thinking of the man and his two children, 10 and 12, seriously wounded by a shell. The man had been chopping wood; his wife brought lunch, pie and salad, and the children. The Serbs spotted the picnic and fired. His wife is dead.

Mrs Milic weeps as she recalls the 20th-century life she was forced to abandon. "We cook on fires, wash clothes by hand. I do everything the way people did 100 years ago." And there is a medieval feel to the place: strangers are a major attraction. Everywhere we went, people followed, crowding to hear our questions, curious and friendly, pressing us with apples and, most shaming, thanking us for visiting Gorazde.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game