For One Bosnian Family, Mladic Brought Life of Torment and Pain

More

In Srebrenica, Sead's father, Selman, appeared lost without his wife and young children.

"He would just walk around, worried about his son. He would come to my house and cry and say he doesn't know what to do," Mevludin recalled. "He would cry for days sometimes. It was hard. When he started crying I started crying. He would stare, sometimes not answer to his name, his mind was elsewhere."

Sead spoke to his father only once, via ham radio. "I know you are going to make it in life," his father told him. "But I fear I won't see you again." The UN designated Srebrenica a safe area after the schoolyard attack that had killed more than 60 children and injured more than 150. Under the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC), created by the Geneva Convention, noncombatants are not to be specifically targeted in war. Though the U.S. military and NATO subscribed to LOAC, the Bosnian Serb military operated under its own rules and chafed against outside intervention.

The Srebrenica safe zone held an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 refugees. While the UN protected the area, it did not fully disarm the Srebrenica fighters who still raided Serb villages at night, infuriating the Bosnian Serb army, which complained bitterly when the Muslim forces killed Serb soldiers and civilians as they retook villages. On July 6, 1995, the Bosnian Serb soldiers, led by Mladic, attacked Srebrenica. First they used small weapons, and then fired round after round of artillery in an effort to dislodge the 450 Dutch UN troops who surrounded the safe area.

The Bosnian Serb army shelled the town with tanks, howitzers, and rocket launchers. In the first 12 hours, the Serbs rained 200 shells around the Dutch peacekeepers. Though the Dutch attempted to call in air support, a long series of botched communications and bureaucratic hang-ups delayed the NATO response by five days. The Dutch force was overrun.

72.jpg

Sead Bekric at his father's grave in Srebrenica. By Enver Bekric

The afternoon of July 11, more than 30,000 inhabitants and refugees who had been holed up in Srebrenica for more than three years, surrounded by their Serbian enemies and living on whatever meager rations that the UN was able to get to them, realized they didn't have a chance. Panicked families flooded the UN headquarters in Srebrenica. The UN soldiers helped them evacuate,piling the wounded, the mentally ill, and the elderly who were willing to risk the journey onto their trucks and APCs and fled. About 25,000 refugees streamed down the road toward the UN compound in the town of Potocari to try and escape the onslaught.

Mevludin Oric, Sead's brother-in-law and one of the defenders of Srebrenica, watched the scene unfold from a hill above the enclave. As commander of a platoon in the Bosnian Muslim army, Oric did not want to turn himself in, but he encouraged civilians to flee toward Potocari. Sead's father, Selman, was among the civilians who went. Believing the siege of Srebrenica was finally over, he, his daughter Hadzira, and her three children walked three miles with the other refugees, stunned but relieved that their three-year captivity was finally ending.

"The Serbs told them that they would be alright," said Mevludin.

The Dutch allowed 5,000 civilian refugees onto their base and, saying they had run out of room, blocked the rest. Thousands of men, women, children, and elderly took shelter in nearby abandoned factories, on the grass, or in parking lots. Mladic soon arrived, telling the refugees in Potocari that they would all be taken to safety. Over the next two days, Serb soldiers forcibly separated most of the men and boys from the women and children at gunpoint. They confiscated the men's weapons. And they forced refugees out of the Dutch base.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Susan E. Reed covered the Bosnian War from 1992 to 1995 for CBS News. She is the author of a forthcoming book, The Diversity Index.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

'Stop Telling Women to Smile'

An artist's campaign to end sexual harassment on the streets of NYC.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Global

Just In