in a Bosnian village
by Jean Hatzfeld
(May 5,1992, Libération)
Hranca, a Muslim village near the Serbian border, is in -ruins. On Sunday, some 30 Serbs killed three men and a child, and destroyed homes and livestock. Hunted by the Serbian militia, a dozen fugitives have not returned
At Ljubovija, the Serbian federal army has inaugurated a new border post between Serbia and the new Bosnia and Herzegovina in the worst way: a massacre. This town lies on the Serbian side of the river Drina, 50 kilometres south of Zvornik. The checkpoint is a bridge, guarded on the Serbian side by the Serbian army and on the Bosnian side by the Serbian militia — a curious conception of a border.
On the Bosnian side, the road crosses the town of Bratunac and then sinks into the hills around Sarajevo or Tuzla. Five -kilometres later, the smoke coming out of burnt homes in a field -attracts our attention. A curiosity stop. A few hundred metres further, a dirt road leads to a town set among several sloping pastures. There, we find a concert of weeping. Women of all ages, veiled, wearing long robes, sometimes covered with a denim jacket, cry in the gardens, on roadsides, in yards. There are -only three men. Nearby is the spectacle of houses completely destroyed, recumbent cows, farm equipment broken: the scene of a massacre.
This village, called Hranca, has a population of about a hundred Muslim families, mostly earning their living by growing fruit or forestry, or working in the local factories held by Serbs. There has been no significant disturbance here since hostilities in the -region began. And nothing particularly memorable during the Second World War. A Muslim village in a Serb-held area. Occupied Bosnian territory.
But on Saturday, May 2, dozens of Serbian policemen and -militiamen rode to the village, raiding houses and demanding the return of shotguns. Terrorising the inhabitants, they were, it seems, largely obeyed, and they left for their encampment near Bratunac. The next day, about 30 men in army fatigues returned at 11 o’clock. Mostly masked, they were armed and equipped with cans of petroleum. Seeing them coming, most of the men tried to flee into the forest overlooking the village. The women remained. The Serbian militiamen — half from the surrounding Serbian villages, half from beyond — began their work. Systematically and calmly, they blew up everything with grenades and burnt 40 houses with the petroleum. They killed almost all of the cattle, except for one cow that now moos in plaintive solitude. Some stopped and took away a dozen men in front of their families. Others set off in pursuit of those who had fled into the woods, with bursts of Kalashnikovs.
At the top of a hill is the home of the Ramic family. A dozen militiamen kicked their way in. They found three men in the cellar with refugee women. Camil, the father, his brother Sacir, 35 years old, and his son Osman, 24. They beat the last two to death, before shooting them. People point to two pools of blood behind a hedge where the two men were shot in the head, the crushed skull of one victim, the traces of knife wounds to the chest, and the deep-set eyes and bloodied face of the second leaving no doubt about the veracity of their abuse and their murders.
Further down the hill, another man, named Bego Hodzic, 51, lies on his bed while Hana, his wife, guards the house with her neighbours. Bego’s belly has been sliced wide open. Nobody can say whether he died from a bullet or from the knife wound.
The home of Ramiza and Hadjrudin Hodzic is a little further on. The latter has disappeared. His wife cries over the body of Selma, their daughter, 7, her life cut short by a bullet as she ran down the meadow towards the barn. Nobody witnessed her death; it is impossible to say whether she was killed accidentally or deliberately.
The operation started at around 11 o’clock in the morning. The militiamen left at about 7 o’clock. Forty houses were burnt and are still smouldering. Dozens of women are screaming. The men have fled. It would have been impossible for the militiamen and the federal army, stationed on the road a mile upstream and downstream from the village, not to have noticed the event. Not only did they not intervene, but the telephone lines and electricity to the village have since been cut. It is forbidden to go out and help the survivors.
At the bottom of the village, Hajnia Hodzic, 42, asks us to help her find Samir, 16, her son. She tried to go to Bratunac to find out if he is imprisoned there, in vain. Since Sunday, a dozen men on the run in the woods are still missing, like him.
In this village, the road crosses a landscape of groves to reach the first Bosnian-Serb front line, in the Turalici forest of ash trees. There, a gang of thugs, heavily armed, disguised as militia, staged a firing squad in front of a group of foreigners before relieving them of a camera and some radios.
Then the asphalt continues to the village of Semizova. This village, until now untouched by the war, has been bombed two nights running. The checkpoints normally manned by military columns have been abandoned. In the shelter of a house, we find some men. Among them, Serb and Muslim militiamen, sitting around a shipment of Coca-Cola. None knows the origin of the shells falling all around them ■