'My jailers bragged of murders'

BOSNIA A UN hostage tells Abi Daruvalla of Serbs' daily mission to rape and kill
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The Independent Online
A DUTCH UN soldier who was held by the Bosnian Serbs told yesterday how his guards had boasted of killing and raping Muslim civilians after the fall of Srebrenica.

Johan Bos, 31, a sergeant with the 13th battalion of the Dutch air mobile brigade, was held by Serbs for seven days before being released with 37 comrades last Saturday. He is now back home in the northern Dutch city of Hoogeveen.

The last three days of his unit's captivity were spent in a disused school building in Brautinac, five miles outside Srebrenica. The building was shared by 15 Bosnian Serb military police.

The task of these young men was to clear Muslims out of houses in the former UN "safe haven". "Those were their orders. But from what I saw and heard, I believe they could also have been told, 'If the Muslims don't co-operate, kill them'," Sgt Bos said.

He said the men left the school building between seven and eight every morning and returned exhausted in the evening. They boasted about the day's events among themselves and to one of the Dutch soldiers who spoke Serbo-Croat.

"They bragged about how they had murdered people and raped women," Sgt Bos said. "They were proud of what they were doing. I didn't get the feeling they were doing it out of anger or revenge, more for fun. They seemed pleased with themselves in a sort of professional, low-key way.

"I believed what they said, because they looked and behaved as if they were more than capable of doing what they claimed. Each had an Alsatian dog, a gun, handcuffs and a terrifying-looking knife with a blade about 9ins long."

Sgt Bos denied French press allegations that the Dutch soldiers more or less "condoned" the Bosnian Serb actions.

He said: "We did what we had to do to survive. I wasn't afraid of them. They weren't interested in harming us, but I could see they were dangerous. We tried to remain friendly with them, to drink beers together. But no, they weren't nice guys.

"You didn't dare think too much about what it was like for their victims. I certainly wouldn't want one of them arriving on the doorstep of my family. They were scary." Sgt Bos has a wife and a two-year-old son.

"We were not in a position to do anything except make sure the atmosphere in the school building did not become hostile. They could easily have turned against us."

Full details of what the 15 men did were not forthcoming, Sgt Bos said. There were never names, never precise details. "They kept their stories general. I can't prove what they said, but I have no reason not to believe them."

While the military police were away during the day, the 38 Dutch soldiers held at the school were guarded by a single soldier. "He was not really motivated - he told us he hadn't been paid for five months. If we asked him something like 'Can we sit outside in the sun?' he would reply that he didn't know."

Sgt Bos and his group could easily have escaped, but feared such a move would endanger the lives of the 300 Dutch peacekeepers at the UN base camp in Potocari. Although they were not officially hostages, it was not until last Thursday that their safe passage out of Serb-held territory was guaranteed. They arrived in Zagreb yesterday.

The 38 held at Brautinac were released on 15 July and flew to the Netherlands the following day.

Sgt Bos appeared to have coped well with his ordeal. "The only thing I can't do is watch the TV news - I'm afraid I will see one of the 13 young Muslim women who used to work at our camp. I don't want to be confronted with that. I consciously shut out thoughts of what could have happened to them."

Sgt Bos believes most of the 4,000 Muslims "missing" from Srebrenica, mostly men, are dead. "I don't think the Bosnian Serbs would lock them up. They'd have to house and feed them. I don't think they would bother with that.

"I am convinced the Serbs have murdered people. But the Muslims are not angels either. A Serb general told me - and I believe him because my colleagues saw evidence of it - that he saw Muslim fighters leaving Srebrenica with weapons and killing Serbian civilians over the border in Serb territory. The general said 57 were murdered on one occasion. The Muslims also burnt down Serb villages, I saw evidence of that myself."

He claimed that Muslim fighters had deliberately provoked the Serbs to shoot at UN troops. "They want us on their side, but the UN has to remain impartial."

Sgt Bos believes the UN still has a role in Bosnia. "They could do something useful there, but they need more resources and to change the mandate so that the troops are allowed to enforce peace, rather than keep a peace which doesn't exist."

n A Dutch minister last week accused the Bosnian Serbs of war crimes in Srebrenica. Returning from a visit to Bosnia, the Co-operation Minister, Jan Pronk, said the Serbs had been guilty of "genocide".

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