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
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Life and Style
Kissing
life
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
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: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test