Srebrenica widows dream of revenge

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The Independent Online

Vozuca, near Tuzla

Bitter tears fuel the misery of life in "new Srebrenica", a straggling village where a thousand women and children mourn the men they lost in the savage Serb assault on old Srebrenica, and nourish the seeds of hatred and revenge.

Vozuca was taken from the Serbs in September and more than 1,200 refugees from Srebrenica are housed in what was once the Serb half of the village. There is some reconstruction, but no running water, electricity or humanitarian aid. The refugees want to return home, but the chances are they will remain in Vozuca, despite the promise in the Dayton peace deal of the right of return.

"If our men came home, we could live here, at least for a while," said Hurija Gabelic. Her new housemates, Mina Ibrahimovic and Ajsa Mehmedovic, agreed. But their men will not come home. The murder of thousands of people after the fall of Srebrenica in July led, in the end, to the Dayton peace talks, but that is little consolation to Mrs Gabelic.

"We don't have anyone to go back to. I have lost three men, my two sons and my husband. I just have one daughter left. They tried to escape through the forests and they just disappeared," Mrs Ibrahimovic said, weeping. While the women are filled with distress, their teenaged children ignore the scene and chat amongst themselves, blank because of the horrors they endured. "I also lost four nephews, my father and my uncle - 45 of my relatives."

Mrs Gabelic is, in all likelihood, another Srebrenica widow. "My mother stayed in the house because she was too old to leave," she said. "My husband was captured by the Serbs in Potocari and they took him away from me - he was 51. We just don't know what happened. I heard he was put in front of a firing squad but I'm not sure, it was just gossip."

The scale of thebutchery in Srebrenica is unimaginable. Each refugee has a horror story, most centred around the Dutch UN base at Potocari, where Muslims fled for protection from the Serb assault. Witnesses say the Dutch, expecting Nato air strikes to defend the pocket, ordered the Bosnian army to pull back to safety. It did, but the French UN commander vetoed air raids, and the Serbs rolled in to the gates of the UN camp. About 8,000 people are still missing.

"We went to the UN headquarters in Potocari. It was so full, so many people. Unprofor invited us in to hide. We expected some protection," said Huso Tusunovic, 62, another new resident of Vozuca. Instead, thousands of terrified Bosnians saw their nemesis - General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander.

"Instead of protecting us, they just sold us," Mr Tusunovic said bitterly. "I wish we were in a position to kill all Unprofor, because we sacrificed 100 Muslims for each UN soldier [allowed by General Mladic to leave Srebrenica after the fall]." The thirst for vengeance is unusual among Bosnians on the government side. Few readily express such sentiments, and they are a testament to Srebrenica's sense of betrayal.

"I'm willing to fight to go back," said Dzemal Gabelic, a young soldier who walked outand reached safety 12 days later. "I'm not tired of war. I want to fight for my town." His mother nodded: "Everyone is ready to continue fighting because we all lost someone."

The mayor of Srebrenica, Fahrudin Salkovic, now lives in Tuzla. "There is such rebellion and hatred in the minds of people from Srebrenica. It is difficult to wipe that out and get them to forget. No family survived unscathed," he said. "Realistically it will be difficult to go back, but that idea will never leave them."

Mrs Gabelic has had no news of her mother, left behind in a village near Srebrenica. "We just had to run, we had no time to shut the door of the house. I had just begun to make bread and I just left it. My mother was in bed. We had no time to say good-bye," she cried.

The three families sharing the house live now on bread and a few tins of food: the fields are blanketed by snow and peppered with mines, there is no work and the women cannot even afford the bus fare to Tuzla to seek news of their men.

Dzemal has installed a water-wheel in the river, to run a light bulb and a car radio that plays Bosnian folk music. "In Srebrenica every family had a water-wheel," Mrs Ibrahimovic said wistfully.