Bosnians Fleeing War Face New Fight for Life; Serb Forces Attack Retreating Refugees

The Washington Post
November 2, 1992

TRAVNIK, Bosnia – It was on the home stretch to safety that the wrath of Serb gunners caught up with housewife Nijaza Dizdar.

After a harrowing 35-mile journey from the Serb-captured city of Jajce, Dizdar and her Muslim family were almost outside the range of Serb militia forces that had been firing at retreating refugees. Then, a shell sheared through the side of their tiny two-door car and exploded when it hit the pavement underneath. Dizdar, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, absorbed most of the blast.

She lost both legs. Now, she is lying in a coma in a hospital in this front-line city, with a tube through her nose and an intravenous drip plugged into her arm. It is not certain whether she will survive.

Her husband, Seyid, who was only slightly injured in the Friday shelling, stood in the corridor outside his wife’s room and described how he brought the blood-splashed car to a halt after about 100 yards. He told of how a second shell exploded nearby, and how he carried his bleeding wife to safety because the road was too dangerous for ambulances.

“It took more than an hour because of the heavy shelling,” he said, speaking with the listless, stunned tone heard often in Travnik’s hospital these days. “She was crying for help. She was fighting for her life.”

Despite having captured the Muslim stronghold of Jajce after a brutal months-long siege, Bosnian Serb militia forces continued to launch attacks on the estimated 40,000 refugees who streamed out of the burning city over the weekend.

This ongoing violence highlights the unusual nature of the Jajce exodus. The goal of Serb bombings in Sarajevo and other besieged cities has been to force the Bosnians to surrender and leave. The Jajce civilians have already given up their city and are departing — but they are still being killed.

The shell-shattered corpses of seven Jajce refugees have been brought to Travnik’s general hospital since Friday, and an additional two refugees died after arrival, according to hospital director Mirsad Granov. More than 60 others have been treated for injuries from shellfire, he said.

In addition, Granov said, it is not known how many corpses might litter the mountain paths trodden by Jajce’s people as they fled. And, with as many as 15,000 refugees still stranded between Jajce and Travnik, the body count seemed likely to rise.

One victim, witnesses said, was a Croatian cameraman working for the British Broadcasting Corp., who was killed this morning after Serb gunners fired at his armored car.

The men, women and children who have been killed while fleeing Jajce were not caught in cross-fire, according to witnesses, and no battles were reported along the mountain escape route.

“It’s intentional,” said Granov. “It’s a part of the Serbs’ tactics to kill civilians. They want to kill our hopes and kill our will to defend ourselves.”

The refugees are leaving behind a Sarajevo-like ordeal. Serb forces encircled Jajce more than five months ago, and the city has had little food or medicine for the last month.

Because of the drug shortage, Benjamin Markin, a Ghana-born doctor who had worked in Jajce for 20 years, said he sewed up shrapnel wounds without anesthesia. Whenever possible he used local anesthesia for major surgery. One time, he said, he used local anesthesia for brain surgery.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.