Thousands take the long road of tears to Travnik

Andrej Gustincic
Thursday 20 August 1992 23:02
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CENTRAL BOSNIA - With only the moon and stars to light their way, the Muslims trudged through pools of blood and over chunks of human flesh as a battle raged nearby in the wild mountains. The stream of 1,500 people dragged itself down the road in silence. Babies and small children were quiet as though aware of the danger and the Serb fighters only 200 yards away.

The march to Travnik was the final stretch of a 16-hour odyssey for the Muslims of Sanski Most, expelled from their homes by the Serbian campaign of 'ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia.

We walked over mortar craters, our shoes sticking to the congealed blood all over the road and stumbled over the mangled remains of people killed during the day. The only sounds, apart from the wheezing of the old and the clomping of peasant shoes, were from rockets and the thunder of machine-gun fire.

'We don't know where we are going,' said a young man who only minutes before had been confident and comforting to the others. 'If you don't put out those cigarettes they will see you and kill you.' He added: 'We could be on the wrong road. I can't let my people perish in these hills.'

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has refused to collude with Serbian 'ethnic cleansing' and allow Muslims to be driven into UN-patrolled zones in Croatia to the north. But Serb militias have simply changed the route. Two other journalists and I joined the line of cars and buses and trucks crammed with people, which at times extended for more than 12 miles through the fertile, farmland of northern Bosnia.

'We've left our homes,' said a Muslim called Salhudin. 'None of us wanted to go. There used to be 20,000 Muslims in Sanski Most, now there are only 1,000.' People along the road took no notice. But when the convoy turned off the main road after Banja Luka, the mood grew more menacing.

A small boy in dirty clothes, his face smeared with mud, lifted his hand in the Serbian three-finger salute - combining the Holy Trinity with the victory sign.

Anxiety turned to barely suppressed terror in Vitovlje, the last village before the Serb front lines, an isolated community high on the Vlasic plateau. Under a crimson sky, old women smoked pipes and looked on impassively as swaggering youths with holsters and bandoliers criss-crossing their chests clustered in groups. 'We'll butcher you,' they shouted.

The convoy moved again. The next stop was the Serbian frontline. As our car was not taken, my colleagues and I led the trek with a torch and a white T- shirt as a flag, until we reached a mountain of rocks in the road which was the Bosnian frontline. Men passed silent babies to one another over the mound. A crippled old man clung to his son, who carried him across on his back.

Once in the Travnik suburb of Turbe, the exiled people were put on buses. The promise of Split and Germany was a cruel lie. There was barely enough petrol for the few remaining kilometres to Travnik.

Leading article, page 18

(Photograph omitted)

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