To starve or be shot by Serbs: Evacuation in shreds: an exclusive report from Haris Nezirovic in Srebrenica

LIKE most of Srebrenica's 60,000 inhabitants, Osmo Ferhat desperately wants to get out of town.

Mr Ferhat is 63. He has been a refugee in eastern Bosnia for almost a year. Before that he was in a Serbian detention camp, where his captors regularly pummelled his kidneys: he still can't urinate without a catheter and sometimes passes blood. He needs medical attention unavailable in besieged Srebrenica. But he cannot leave and it is not just the armed Serbs surrounding the town who are stopping him; Mr Ferhat's fellow Muslims are trying to stop a United Nations evacuation.

The UN hopes to evacuate 15,000 people over the next few days. The Muslim command defending Srebrenica claims the UN operations amount to complicity in Serbian 'ethnic cleansing'. Privately, the commanders add, they believe that the Serbs will not launch an all-out attack as long as refugees are there. More importantly, they say that without the civilians the defence of the town would crumble. They believe that Muslim fighters are better motivated when their families are there behind them.

'I saw it in Cerska,' said a battalion commander who fought there until the Muslim enclave fell to Serbs last month. 'When the women and children were evacuated, the soldiers packed their rucksacks and hardly waited for a stronger attack to find a reason to withdraw. It should not have been allowed to happen.'

What this means in practice is thousands of civilians will have to remain, in full range of Serbian guns: children with scabies who cannot be treated because of a lack of medicine; the elderly who are so weak from hunger that they cannot fight for air-dropped scraps of food; and mothers who feed their babies with warm water because nothing else is available.

Those trapped include Meliha Gerovic, who is 15. Her home was destroyed a year ago, and she lives in a school filled by 700 people. She goes from house to house, begging for food, but people drive her from their doors. She wants to leave. So, probably, does Bevludin Mujucic, though he is mentally retarded and cannot express his wishes. His hair is covered with lice and his face is pale.

In a room with 30 people, Mirsada Kostirovic has labour pains. She sleeps on the floor and will have nowhere else to give birth. Her four-year-old son has a hernia, but doctors cannot treat him or her other children, who have scabies. They all want to leave.

The Bosnian command opposed the UN evacuation from the beginning but, not realising how many people might leave, did little to stop it. When the first UN trucks came last month, they were supposed to evacuateonly a few wounded, but hundreds rushed on board. When the next convoy came on 28 March, thousands stampeded towards the vehicles.

'We'll screw up those convoys,' said Naser Oric, the local Muslim commander. In another life, before the war, he was a bodyguard to Serbia's President, Slobodan Milosevic. 'It cannot go on like this any more. The fighters are leaving front lines to put their families (on the trucks).'

When another convoy came on 30 March, masses of civilians surrounded the trucks but were kept back by the commanders' personal guard - a group of 30 foul- mouthed soldiers suspected of robberies and other crimes. During the night, the guards accepted bribes in German marks to let people on board. Many refugees on the UN list for evacuation were beaten up. Witnesses said the deputy commander slapped and kicked women and pushed children from the trucks.

On 4 April the local police used fire hoses to keep people away from the UN vehicles. Jets of water knocked down anyone who approached. Soldiers climbed on the trucks and fired into the air. 'You're keeping the guns to save these trucks, while the front lines are empty. You dirty bastards. Shame on you,' shouted an old man in the crowd.

Ever more frequently, you hear civilians say, 'Our soldiers are worse than Chetniks (the Serbs)'. They want to surrender. Why? 'Because to starve to death or to be slaughtered by the Serbs doesn't make any difference.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all