'Let's Kill The Muslims!'

THE VILLAGERS OF STUPNI DO knew something was wrong when Anna Likic, the only Croatian resident and the wife of a Muslim, suddenly disappeared with all her children. Word travels fast in this tiny mountain hamlet in central Bosnia, a farming and sheep-grazing community of 250 people, most of whom are related and share a common surname. When the first mortar shell hit, 36 men of military age grabbed their hunting rifles and their few AK-47s and manned the bunkers they had dug along the edges of the village. But no one expected the ferocious artillery pounding that followed. Quickly overwhelmed, Stupni Do's defenders retreated to a couple of houses. There they spent the day trying to hold off 600 Croatian nationalists--and protecting the 100 women and children who huddled together in the basements of the two homes.

The "death platoon"--a group of 30 or 40 Croatian paramilitaries--entered the village and marched down its only main street. Dressed all in black, they hid their faces under camouflage grease or covered them with ski masks to conceal their identities. But many of the villagers recognized them--a policeman and former colleagues from the nearby town of Vares. "We used to work together," says Fatima Likic. "We were friends a year ago, and then six months ago they started to hate us." The platoon sang martial songs and began shouting "Let's kill the Muslims!" and "Where are all the pretty girls for us to rape? Bring them out!"

Then the killing started. "I could hear Ibrahim Likic and his wife, Jeva, screaming while they were burning alive in their house," recalls Zinata Likic, who hid in the basement of her house with her two infants and eventually escaped through the woods to the nearby village of Dabravine. During the night she heard two Croatian soldiers raping the woman next door. Another neighbor, she says, was raped by soldiers who forced her to comply by threatening to kill her family--and then did so anyway. "People were begging, pleading, 'Please don't kill us, we're innocent'," says Alija Likic, who hid in a clump of trees just outside town, close enough to hear much of the butchery. "But they were saying, 'We're going to do to you what you've been doing to us'"--an apparent reference to a recent expulsion of Croats by Muslims in the village of Kopjari. With avenging fury, the Croatian death squad crushed the skulls of Muslim children, slit the throats of women and machine-gunned whole families at close range. The next morning Croatian reinforcements finished up the job, torching all 52 houses and dynamiting the community's one small mosque. in less than 48 hours Stupni Do simply ceased to exist.

Kadira Dobinovic, a 27-year-old Muslim mother of two, was somewhat luckier than most villagers in Stupni Do. A resident of nearby Vares, she had just finished her morning coffee when she heard the artillery pounding a couple of miles away. Fearing for her safety, "I told MY husband, 'Let's run away'," she says. But at a Croatian checkpoint, her husband, Zehrid, was arrested. Kadira, her mother and her children fled to the home of a Croatian friend and waited for word of Zehrid. She would have no protection. That night a young Croatian Soldier, dressed like a member of the death platoon, burst into the house, yelling, "Give me your money, give me your gold!" says Kadira. "I had nothing. So he said, 'You will give me something else'."

The soldier ordered everyone to sit on the floor and told Kadira to follow him into another room, slamming the door behind them. "My babies started crying, and he said, 'Why are you screaming? Stop it or I'll kill your mother'," she recalls. "They were old enough to obey." Her elderly mother begged the soldier through the closed door not to harm Kadira. "Be quiet or I'll put this knife in you, old lady," he screamed. Then he ordered Kadira to remove her clothes. "I wasn't fast enough, so he said to take them off more quickly ... And then he raped me." After he finished, the soldier threatened her: "if you tell anyone what happened here, I'll kill you."

Stupni Do wasn't just another massacre in Bosnia. At least 25 people died in the small village, a fraction of the casualties Croatian forces inflicted on the Muslim civilians of Ahmici in April. But Stupni Do stands out because the world discovered its horrors just after they unfolded--and because U.N. investigators jumped to the scene to document what appears to be a clear-cut crime against humanity. Bosnian army scouts, who saw what was happening through their binoculars, radioed for help. Scandinavian U.N. troops answered the call and found the roads swarming with drunken Croatian soldiers who threatened them with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons, preventing them from reaching the village for three days. Meanwhile, the Croats tried to cover up the evidence of their dirty work by burning everything in sight victims included. "This is not war. This is a disgusting war crime," Brig. Angus Ramsay, the British chief of staff of the U.N. Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in Bosnia, told reporters who visited Stupni Do. "Those who have done this thing will one day answer for it." Tracking down the killers shouldn't be that hard. Not long after the attack, UNPROFOR Commander in Chief Gen. Jean Cot pointed the finger at two leaders of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO): Ivica Rajic, special-forces commander from Kiseljak, and Kresimir Bozic, head of the Bobovac Brigade in Vares (box).

But will they end up paying for their actions? That's the idea, at least, behind the international war-crimes tribunal. Created by the U.N. Security Council in May, the panel has the power to issue indictments against individuals it deems responsible for the long catalog of offenses--among them: rape, torture, murder--that fall under the hideous euphemism of "ethnic cleansing." But nabbing and punishing the perpetrators--primarily the Serbs, but Croats and Muslims as well--won't be easy. It would be nearly impossible, say, to obtain custody of Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb commander who has led the 18-month siege of Sarajevo and is often mentioned as a possible defendant. "This is my country and I will defend my own people," he told NEWSWEEK. "Whatever happens, I don't feel like a war criminal."

Making Mladic and others feel more culpable is the job of the recently appointed prosecutor, who will turn his indictments over to the tribunal's 11 judges. That's not likely to happen any time soon. While a U.N. commission of experts has been compiling evidence of war crimes for a year, no one can be sure what will stand up in court. Forensic investigation--like the current excavation of an alleged mass grave of some 200 hospital patients in Vukovar, Croatia--is the stuff of criminal proceedings. But Vukovar is only one of some 100 sites of reported massacres in the former Yugoslavia, most of them in areas held by forces that have no interest in seeing crimes brought to light. The lack of adequate funds has also hampered investigative work. "It appears incongruous that the Security Council established such a commission and then didn't provide it with the resources," complains a U.N. human-rights official. "Is this an act of superb diplomatic hypocrisy--or inattention?"

The question cuts to the heart of the matter. Is the international community serious about pressing war-crimes trials? More than a year in the making, the tribunal has been hailed by the Security Council as a way to exorcise awful truths and "cleanse" ethnic hatred. But it has also been criticized as the West's way of washing its hands of the mess in the Balkans--"a substitute for real action to control the crimes," says Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's ambassador to the United Nations. "In practical terms, as long as the war lasts, the tribunal's role is very limited," says Tadeusz Mazowiecki, special rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in the former Yugoslavia. A major limitation, he says, is that "the list of war criminals includes people with whom the West is negotiating now."

Another Nuremberg isn't likely. In that case, the victors of World War II separated individual and collective responsibility, and meted out justice accordingly. At best, concede supporters of a Yugoslav tribunal, the prosecution may be able to hand down detailed indictments that turn the worst offenders into prisoners in their own countries, subject to arrest if they ever travel abroad. Serbia, claims Peter Galbraith, the U.S. ambassador to Croatia, will be turned into an international pariah, "the new Albania of Europe." But there's also a chance the tribunal will go the way of high-minded principles like the territorial integrity of Bosnia. Weary negotiators may find it hard to resist the temptation to swap justice for peace.