Serbs press-gang refugees into front line

Robert Block in Belgrade reports that forced conscription is so ruthless, some `troops' wear only pyjamas

A group of 30 women dressed in black, the representatives of Serbia's tiny peace movement, gathered yesterday at the Square of the Republic in central Belgrade as they have done every Wednesday for the last three and half years, to protest against the war in Bosnia and Croatia.

Yesterday, however, the focus of the demonstration was not against the fighting itself, but against a practice the women deemed equally barbaric: the forced conscription of their sons, brothers and husbands to fight Muslims and Croats. "Mobilisation is a crime against humanity," read one of the placards held up by the group.

In recent weeks, the Serbian authorities have rounded up an estimated 4,000 Bosnian and Croatian Serbs, most of them refugees, and sent them to the front lines against their will. "This act is an infringement of all human rights granted to refugees and all international conventions on refugee rights," said a pamphlet signed by the anti-war group Women in Black, which organised the protest.

One of the protesters, a Montenegrin woman named Andja, recounted how her 52-year-old Bosnian-born husband, an architect who designed some venues for the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics, was dragged by police from his car in central Belgrade two weeks ago and taken to a Serbian army garrison.

"He telephoned me and begged me to do something. I said, `Just show them that you are a citizen of Montenegro by marriage'. He told me: `They don't want to listen. I was born in Bosnia and that's enough for them. Help me'." Andja rushed to the garrison, but could only watch as they put her husband on a bus bound for Serb-held areas of Sarajevo.

Press reports and information from relief workers in Serb-held parts of Bosnia paint a grim picture of life on the front lines for the conscripts. Belgrade's English-language newsletter VIP reported yesterday that some conscripts have been sent to the trenches dressed only in the pyjamas or boxer shorts they were wearing when arrested. "They promised to issue us clothing and to give us some sort of training, but nothing came of either promise," one was quoted as saying.

The report added that at least two conscripts killed themselves with the rifles they were given to fight Muslims. It said another was involved in an accident with a hand grenade in a trench, injuring two Bosnian Serb army veterans.

"After that incident, the regular troops refused to fight alongside the newcomers, so that the army formed special units made up exclusively of repatriated refugees," VIP said.

There have also been reports of Bosnian Serb police beating "deserters" - the term used to describe forcibly repatriated conscripts - upon their return to Bosnia. According to one reliable independent source, at least two men near the border town of Bijeljina died as a result of the beatings.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has protested to the rump Yugoslav government over the round-up, which it said violated international law. The authorities claimed police were only arresting criminals and foreigners whose papers were not in order.

n New York (Reuter) - The UN Security Council yesterday renewed for another 75 days the easing of some of the sanctions it imposed on rump Yugoslavia in 1992, following its support for Bosnian Serbs fighting the Muslim-led Sarajevo government.

By a vote of 14-0, with only Russia abstaining, the Security Council extended until 18 September a relaxation of curbs on travel and on cultural and sporting ties.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?