A Death March In The Mountains

At a crossroads in the mountains, Sabaheta Bacirovic saw 500 men on their knees. They were Muslim prisoners. Their arms were tied behind their heads, and their Serbian captors forced them to "march" by shuffling along on their knees. The Serbs taunted Mrs. Bacirovic and the women traveling with her, who had been driven out of Srebrenica when the Muslim enclave fell on July 11. "There are your husbands," she recalled them saying. "There is your army. We will kill them all."

Mrs. Bacirovic anxiously scanned the prisoners for a glimpse of her husband, but she didn't see him. "I have little hope left," she said last week at a refugee camp in Tuzla. "Too much time has gone by." Other women who rode the trail of tears out of Srebrenica had seen heaps of dead men, their throats slit, piled up beside the roads.

Survivors called it the Srebrenica Death March. As the Muslim enclave was falling, remnants of the defending Bosnian army organized all the men of draft age- somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 of them--into a huge column, which set off into the mountains, hoping to escape through Serbian lines. Nine out of 10 were unarmed. They were shot at and shelled by the Serbs almost every step of the way. Survivors said Serb ambushes repeatedly cut the column into segments; when stragglers caught up, they often found piles of corpses, many with slit throats.

Other eyewitnesses said they saw unarmed men shot down while trying to surrender. By last week fewer than half of the men who fled Srebrenica had reached safety in government territory. Interviews with refugees, relief workers and war-crimes investigators suggested that most of the other 6,000 to 9,000 men were dead.

If so, the Death March was the worst massacre in Europesince the Nazi era. Trickery led some of the marchers to their deaths. Sadik Malic, a 29-year-old Muslim soldier, was one of many who said they heard the Serbs using bullhorns, urging the fugitives to give up. Malie's group sent several unarmed men to negotiate surrender. They never returned. Many survivors saw a white armored car with United Nations markings, mounted with a loudspeaker that called the Muslims down from the mountains. "We knew it was really the Serbs," said Alija Omerovic, 24, who watched as some of his companions walked down and were shot by the armored car's machine gun.

Some of the victims were mutilated, often with noses and ears cut off. A scout for one party found a company commander, Enver Alaspahic, lying on a path. "His face had been cut open to the bone in the shape of an Orthodox cross," said Mirsa Avdic, a member of the party. "He begged the scout to kill him. The scout said he couldn't do it and just left him there."

The Bosnians usually tried to take their wounded with them. Vekas Crvk, 28, was earned for a while by four civilians, but during a mortar attack they dropped him and ran for it. He walked the rest of the way with a bullet hole in his chest. He said he saw another wounded soldier holding a gun on his four stretcher bearers. When they said they couldn't go on, he shot each of them and then himself.

Some atrocities may have been committed by black-clad members of the Serbian Volunteer Guard, followers of Zeljko Raznatovic, a thug known as Arkan. Nevlida Pric, whose brother and husband were among the missing marchers, said she saw Serbs in black bandannas pull a pair of 12-year-old twin boys off a refugee bus and slit their throats as their mother tried vainly to trade her life for theirs. Later, the mother tied a scarf to a tree limb and hanged herself.