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The lost souls of Srebrenica

By Cpl. Jean-Philippe Lavigne
First published in
SFOR Informer#125, October 31, 2001

Srebrenica was the first United Nations Protection Forces (UNPROFOR) "Safe Area" to disappear in eastern BiH. According to the indictments filed against him, on July 11, 1995, Gen. Ratko Mladic's Serb Army staged a brutal take-over of the enclave. Over a period of five days, Serb soldiers separated Bosniac families, systematically murdered some 8,000 men and boys, and organised the deportation of 40,000 others. As a French parliamentary commission is about to give its statements on the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II, the situation of thousands of survivors still remains uncertain.

Srebrenica - Seven months ago, Task Force Eagle installed a base in Bratunac, Camp Connor, 10 kilometres North of Srebrenica to encourage the return of Displaced Persons and Refugees.
After this
It's difficult to know what is hiding behind the eyes and lost faces staring at the American convoy. Is it hatred, rebellion, pain or simply fear?
On the side of the road, a youngster quickly gives the three-finger sign, a Serbian Nationalist Symbol guaranteed to provoke.
"They insult us sometimes and show fingers," says Sgt. Michael D. Jones. "But most of them are just teenagers."
The most impressive thing is the silence of Srebrenica when the engines stop. The city has remained as if frozen through the years. The aftermath and consequences of the war are everywhere. Graffiti and campaign posters for Serb hard-line leaders Seselj and Poplasen cover the walls, which are marked with scattered impacts. Rusty scaffolding like skeletons support buildings whose facades are falling off, smashed by mortar shells. The huge department store Robna Kuca stands empty and dilapidated in the centre of the city, with bombed stores all around.
The only sign of hope is a big school at the end of the city where hundreds of children gather. People say that the first Bosniac began attending the school this September. "I start all my patrols from here," says Lt. Charles E. Gilbert, 3rd Knight Viper platoon commander. "It's a way to keep on morale high. My guys are often depressed after leaving this place."
The place is usually quiet but there's a feeling a tension that fills the air. "We are here to show our presence," Gilbert says. "We intercede only in case of emergency or if we can help. Patrolling is the occasion for us to feel the situation. We make sure that they live in acceptable conditions and that they have enough to face winter."
The team heads to "Hunter's lodge" on the upper part of the city. "It used to be a sniper position," says Sgt Jones. In this 200 square-kilometre area, surrounded by mountains, more than 40,000, mostly women, children and elderly, survived for more than two years in horrible conditions, under permanent threat of Serb artillery fire. In July 1995, Mladic finally seized the town and organised the ethnic cleansing, slaughtering and deporting of the population. It's impossible to imagine what happened here.
In the aftermath of the massacre, thousands of survivors were settled in collective centres and abandoned houses in the Federation, mostly in Tuzla Canton, Sarajevo Canton or in Vozuca (Zenica-Doboj Canton). They were still there when General Framework Agreement for Peace (GFAP) was signed in December 1995 and most of them remain there six years after. They are mainly women, whose husbands were murdered. Many are illiterate and can't apply for a job. They currently have no resources.
To be continued

Related links:
Nations of SFOR: US
SFOR at Work

The lost souls of Srebrenica (part II)