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01 May 1994 The Observer Page 26 Ed Vulliamy.pdf


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In town there was an inhospitable silence few people were on the
streets except the usual uncouth heavies from the HVO. The smell of
charred stone hung in the air from shops and houses recently
dynamited. Four foreign aid workers had been arrested in Capljina, and
a CNN crew had that day been uncovered, detained and had its equipment
confiscated. An old man walking down the street by a park told us he
was going to his son's flat to see if it was still there. Both his
boys had been taken, he said his eyes filled and he crossed the road,
saying: 'I cannot talk to you.' We elected to move with caution,
starting from the mosque. A woman, also too nervous to speak, ushered
us up a back stairway to the imam's house.
'I am the only Muslim male under 70 left in Capljina, because I am a
religious official,' said Imam Hassan Palic. The seizure of men had
begun in June, after all the telephone lines had been cut and
roadblocks thrown up around town. As we were talking to the Imam an
elderly woman came into the mosque: 'Look, I am not going to cry in
front of you, or tear my hair out. Just this: they took my four sons.
We went to the camp to ask what had happened to them, and they said,
laughing, that they had killed my second son, and put stinging nettles
on his grave, as an insult.' This lady said that women were starting
to disappear too, 'sent with their children to East Mostar'.
Another, younger, woman came in and told us to stop talking and stay
on quietly, because a group of soldiers was patrolling the street
below and if we were found speaking. . . 'My husband was a football
player,' she whispered, 'he was just kicking a ball around in the
stadium with our boys when they took him. We fought with these people
against the Chetniks. Our men were in the HVO and some were even
fighting on the front lines with the Croats against the Serbs when
they taken. We have lost our men, and there is no appeal, no law here
any more.'
Indeed, the wheel of war had turned full circle. First the Serbs in
northern Bosnia, now the Croats in Mostar: troops stomping the
streets, shops and houses shelled, word of concentration camps. The
women in the Imam's house had come up with names of the places they
believed these camps to be - Garbela and Dretelj.
All international aid organisations had been refused access to the
camps in and around Mostar, but in September UNHCR officials in
Jablanica, north of Mostar, saw the first men to be 'released' from
them. They were skeletal and malnourished. They had been stripped
naked at the Croat outpost positions and sent running down a rocky
track towards the Government Army lines, fired upon as they did so.
The UN officials had dealt with teenagers in conditions of severe
trauma, some of them as young as 13 years old. Some prisoners said
they had been forced to have anal sex with one another and with
animals.
Two months after our first unsuccessful request to Mate Boban's office
to visit the Dretelj camp, we finally made it through its gates to
find the Muslim menfolk of what was now Croatian West Mostar.