Some 4,000 Muslim men escaped into government-held territory Monday from the conquered U.N. “safe area” of Srebrenica with harrowing tales of a six-day flight along forest paths littered with dead and wounded comrades.
The men managed to elude Srebrenica’s Serb conquerors, who have been rounding up all able-bodied Muslim males in an ethnic purge of the enclave that is said to include killings, rapes and other atrocities.
In Zepa, another U.N.-declared “safe area” under assault, Bosnian soldiers held out against mortar and infantry attacks Monday by Serbs just a mile outside town. The Muslim-led Bosnian government asked for negotiations to allow civilians to be evacuated from the remote, mountainous enclave.
The estimated 4,000 men, most of them soldiers, arrived haggard and hungry Monday in the government-held town of Tuzla and said they braved Serb attack and struggled without food or water during their journey.
Bosnian authorities said the men were among an estimated 15,000 people, including 6,000 government soldiers, who have been trying since last Tuesday to make their way to safety across 60 miles of Serb-held territory. According to Sadako Ogata, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, as many as 19,000 Muslims were unaccounted for following Srebrenica’s fall.
“It was a desperate run, but we knew we would be killed or worse, otherwise,” said Azem Alkanovic, a 38-year-old policeman who arrived in Tuzla Monday.
“There were dozens and dozens of dead bodies on my trail. If you found a wounded man, you would carry him as far as you could. Then. …” He left the sentence unfinished.
Bosnian army spokesman Ekrem Avdic said the men started arriving on government territory Sunday night. Some received help from Bosnian army special units that infiltrated Serb-held territory, Avdic said, refusing to elaborate.
Serb commanders in the Srebrenica area told an Associated Press reporter Sunday that Serb troops battled about 1,500 Muslim men equipped with small arms for two days around Crni Vrh, about 18 miles north of Srebrenica.
Six Serb soldiers were killed in the fighting, the commanders said.
Upon reaching Tuzla, many of the Bosnian men raced to tents on a U.N. airfield where thousands of refugees are housed, frantically searching for their families.
The Red Cross was trying to gain access to thousands more Muslim men believed to be detained by the Serbs who overran Srebrenica.
A Red Cross convoy carrying 106 wounded Muslims from Serb-held Bratunac and the Dutch U.N. compound at Potocari, just north of Srebrenica, crossed into Serb-dominated Yugoslavia late Monday en route back to Tuzla, Associated Press Television cameramen said from the border.
Yugoslav police confiscated the tapes of APTV and two other international TV agencies who filmed the convoy.