Monday, November l6, l992 - Mombasa.
Gather in the lobby to check out. We’re heading for a visit to the US Airlift before flying back to Nairobi. Bit of a shock. Barbara has been diagnosed as having malaria. The doctor says he thinks she got it in Mandera. Amazingly, she’s feeling much better with whatever medication she’s been given. Phil saw the doctor as well and seems to be significantly better. Stephanie is too sick to come, will meet us at the plane.
The security at the Airlift Command is pretty tight. Won’t let us in because we’re not in a van with UN markings (this one was rented to accommodate all of us). Finally it’s arranged that we can leave the van and our gear outside and hop into in another UN van that comes through. The unit here is great. Commanded by a Marine, Colonel Fred Peck. A nice fellow, he shows us around, gives us the rundown. 500 troops, Marines and Air Force. They fly daylight missions to four airstrips in Somalia with tons of relief supplies, mostly food. (This is the organization whose plane we saw landing at the Baidoa strip.) It’s exciting to see US military personnel and equipment used for a truly humanitarian effort. These guys seem to be your typical, hard-charging, gung ho types (and so young!), but seeing that can-do attitude focused on this particular job is wonderful. Stick our heads into a couple of the operations offices, meet some people, deal with a few autograph requests and a couple of pictures and we’re headed back to the civilian side of the airport for our flight to Nairobi.
Panos has gone back to get Stephanie, so we meet them before the flight. It turns out she has malaria, too! (It’s getting to be a trend.) And amoebic dysentery. The poor thing is clearly miserable, but won’t give up. Says she's feeling better. This medication must be powerful stuff. (Or they've met Africa's Dr. Feelgood.) Our little troupe is battered, but unbowed.
Monday, November l6, l992 - Nairobi.
The flight back is simple and, once back at the hotel, we’re on our own. Nothing on the schedule but a press conference Panos is trying to set up. If that happens we’re then free until we take off for the airport tonight for our flight to Paris. Some want to shop and look around, as we haven’t had much time for that. I have to get a picture taken for a visa that we’re told I’ll need in Croatia, so I get directions from Barbara as to where to go and what to do. I’m glad she was so specific, because otherwise I’d be sure I was being ripped off. Once I found the shop and paid for the photo, the man pointed to a uniformed guard against the wall and said, “Follow the sergeant.” The guard walked out and I did as I was told, following obediently as he strode down the street for quite a distance, dodging shoppers and businesspeople, totally ignoring me the whole time. Just as I began to think I’d heard the man wrong (could he have said, “Follow the surgeon”? “Fall on the sergeant”? “That fellow’s a sturgeon”?) he turned into a building, walked to the elevator, nodded to two men (underworld types, I was sure) and ushered me in (to my death, no doubt). Two floors up, the doors open (no guns so far) and here we go again as I follow the sergeant down the hall and through a door into a dingy office. He points to a seat, turns and walks out. What now? Do I continue to follow the sergeant? But no, Mike, look! There’s a camera. And a man...
Visa pictures in hand, I wander the streets of Nairobi, looking for a store I’d heard the others talking about. Bump into Del, Richard and Stephanie (looking as if she belonged in a hospital, but unwilling to give in) and they point out a place where we nose around for a while. After a bit, Panos comes racing up, wondering where everyone is. We’ve all evidently forgotten that they were going to set up a press conference back at the hotel and the world is waiting!
Panos gets us back and we tell the press what we’ve seen and urge the United Nations to send in a peace-keeping force before many more die needlessly. Images of whimpering children blur our vision. It’s hard to find a way to describe human suffering. Professor Dasir’s words ring in our ears, I think, and we try to do them all justice. It’s amazingly difficult to form ideas and frame them in comprehensible terms when what we’ve seen beggars description.
Later, we meet Congressman John Lewis, who is here with a delegation that includes two other Members of Congress and some members of his staff (One of the Members, a man from Missouri, reminds me that I went out there and campaigned for his opponent one year. Ah, well.) We try to steer them to some of the people and places we’ve seen.
Later still, unable to shake off the concern I’m feeling, I finally get through by satellite phone to the IMC HQ in Mogadishu and inquire about Jonathan. “Oh, you want to talk to him?” the guy asks. “Here.” Jonathan is fine, is having dinner. The sonofabitch. The least he could have done was be lying bleeding in a foxhole. Actually, he says it’s pretty hairy there, but he’s OK - they’re all having to “hunker down” because of the tension. “Lots of shooting outside,” he says, “but no one seems worried about it.” Well, that’s a relief. Obviously, as he’s still there, it was the right choice for me to stay here. He’s planning to get on the plane tomorrow. It’s good to know he’s OK.
Off, once again, to Moi International. Ofra says goodbye at the hotel. She’s going back to NY tomorrow. It’s hard to believe that this time out we’re going to leave Africa. In a way it feels as if we’ve been here forever. The airport is a mess. Long lines, big crowds. Panos takes Phil and some others to a bank to change some of their Kenyan Shillings to some more appropriate currency as the rest of us work our way toward the ticket counter. Finally there, the clerk wants to ship my bags all the way through to Zagreb. Since we have to change airports in Paris (we land at Charles de Gaulle and have to get a ride to Orly for the flight to Zagreb) I don’t think that’s a good idea. Much backing and forthing. He apparently feels that I think this is some sort of backwater that is going to screw up the shipment of the bags. In fact, I think that’s probably the case, but I’d do the same thing if I was at JFK (I’d certainly do it at JFK) because all my heavy winter stuff is in the bag I’m checking and I don’t want to take any chance on its getting lost in the short time we have to make the switch to Orly. Finally, painstakingly, I make myself understood.
I can’t find my hard won visa pictures. I’m afraid they’re still at the hotel. Oh, sergeant! What do I do now?
Goodbye to Panos. A good fellow. Hard working, smart, self-effacing, gutsy. I hope to see him again.
Business class on the 747 to Paris. Sitting beside a Japanese man. He snores. Somebody’s smoking. Shit.
Tuesday, November l7, l992 - Paris.
Landing in Paris, again, it’s not yet dawn. We’re all bleary-eyed. I have suggested, ever so daintily, that Barbara and Stephanie consider passing on the Bosnia leg of the trip in view of the way they’re feeling. They’re too polite to tell me to stuff it, but the point is made. They’re going.
Our group is disintegrating. Del is staying in Paris for a while. Richard has a few hours to wait and will be back in Los Angeles this afternoon (!?!). (He promises to call Shel.) We say our goodbyes at the juncture where they have to go off on their different routes. It’s funny. Not the best way to say farewell to someone with whom you’ve just shared a life-changing experience, but I’m not sure what you do say in a situation like this. Ever. Del is quiet, as always. Sweet. Steady. You know from looking at him that he knows he’ll never be the same. He’s just not sure what the effect will be. Richard still has that gleam in his eye. It’s a terribly charming part of him. You just know he’s bursting with wicked observations, but he’s going to savor them, slip them out when they’re least expected and savage some complacencies in the process. Good people, both.
Barbara, Stephanie, Phil and I push on through passport control and find the baggage claim area. Barbara’s bags come out, then Phil’s. Nothing for Stephanie, nothing for me. Shit. Stephanie says her bags were shipped through to Zagreb (she evidently got the same anal retentive type I did), so mine are the only problem. Time is going by and we’ve got a flight to catch in another part of the city. Our driver is waiting. An Air France attendant comes up to help. “Were they checked through to Zagreb?” Nope, I made sure of that. Back at her office, she asks for my tags and, “But yes, monsieur, they were. You see?” Oh, that officious little bastard! Why, I oughta... I knew I didn’t like that guy. So, off we go to Orly, sans bag.
Paris traffic looks suspiciously like Los Angeles traffic at this time of the morning. Lots of people drive to work in this city. Barbara and the driver are in the front seat muttering about “alternative routes.” We are in Los Angeles!
Finally, as the dawn is streaking the Paris sky, we pull up to the Air France terminal at Orly. We’ve made it. On to Bosnia!
The airport at Orly is less intimidating than DeGaulle. We’re able to get checked in without any problem. There is, however, no way to know if the bags have successfully made the trip over here. All we can do is hope for the best, but judging from the traffic and the amount of time it took us to get here, I’m guessing the odds are fairly long against us. I’m still thinking unpleasant thoughts about that officious little guy in Kenya as we climb aboard.
Phil and I are seated together, Barbara and Stephanie a row back. Somalia is still such a pressing reality in our minds that it’s hard to shift gears and look ahead. Thinking about my luggage is easier. It’s winter in Bosnia. Sarajevo hosted the winter Olympics in l984, so we have to have plenty of heavy gear to allow for whatever conditions we encounter. I bought a new down coat, complete with hood, specifically for this adventure and now it’s probably on its way to Zanzibar, thanks to that little fart! (Barbara, when I mentioned getting a coat, said “No bright colors.” Bright colors make you stand out too much and give the snipers something to aim at, thank you very much.)
-The situation in what is now being referred to as “ex-Yugoslavia” is both confusing and appalling. It’s fairly legitimately confusing for those of us who haven’t studied the area, but the tortured history of the region is part of the make-up of each of the people who live in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious portion of south-eastern Europe, and the bitter lore - part fact, part legend, part memory (some of it much embroidered) - all has its own personal spin, depending upon which group you come from.
-For most of us, what we know of as Yugoslavia was set up in l945, at the end of World War II, as part of the Eastern or Communist Bloc, under Marshal Tito. It was composed of the sub-national regions of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Serbia (which included a region called Vojvodina and one called Kosovo), Montenegro and Macedonia.
-Most agree that much of the confusion and bitterness that has infested the area began in the late l300s, when the Turks invaded Kosovo and extended the Ottoman Empire into the region. Arguably, the two largest Slavic groups were then, as now, the Serbs and the Croats (pronounced CROW-ATS). Serbs were Orthodox Christians, Croats were Roman Catholics. The Ottoman rule was extremely repressive, particularly, it is said, on the Serbs, and lasted for approximately 500 years. The Roman Catholic Croats were evidently treated in a much more humane fashion by their Muslim Ottoman rulers and were, in any event, ultimately given over to the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the l600s, while the Serbs continued to suffer, rebel and attempt to sustain their culture in secrecy while they nursed their grievances.
-Many of the people of Bosnia at that time were members of a heretical Christian sect and had been persecuted by both the Catholic Croats and the Orthodox Serbs, so they weren’t all that unhappy to see the Turks arrive and take over. In fact, when offered certain legal advantages by the Turks in exchange for converting to Islam, many, especially the upper classes, took them up on it. Many others did so, if less willingly, as a result of bribes or coercion. Tensions between the groups continued to smolder until both the Ottoman and the Austro-Hungarian Empires collapsed at the end of World War I. (Just to further exacerbate tensions, the Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians, thus the Croats and the Serbs, were on opposite sides in WWI.)
-Beginning with the l9l8 formation, under Prince Regent Alexander of Serbia, of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, the various factions, always contending with their own bitter nationalists, tried to find a workable formula to put together a nation that would accommodate all the south Slavs. In l929, it was re-named Yugoslavia (Yug means south) and the bitterness, rivalry and antagonism (sometimes blood-letting) continued until the outbreak of world War II, during which Slovenia became part of Germany and Croatia, while independent, set up a puppet fascist state allied with the Germans.
-The Croatian fascist forces, known as the Ustasa (USH-TA-ZHI), working with the Nazis, were responsible for the deaths of thousands (estimates vary from l00,000 to 5-700,000 depending upon the source) of Serbs in a quest for the formation of a “Greater Croatia.“ For their part, Serbian Cetniks (CHET-NIKS) fighting against the Axis powers and calling for the restoration of the Serbian monarchy and establishment of a “Greater Serbia” were responsible for significant atrocities against both Croats and Muslims, particularly in Bosnia-Hercegovina.
-At the end of World War II, Yugoslavia was re-established under Tito, whose heavy hand suppressed the nationalist tendencies of the various factions for a time. In the early ‘70s, Tito declared Muslim a distinct ethnic division for census purposes in Bosnia-Hercegovina (some Serbs say it was part of a program to further disempower them, since they would otherwise be in the majority in that region).
-After Tito’s death in l980, while Yugoslavia continued to be thought of as among the most pro-Western and independent members of the Communist Bloc, the struggle for succession there was impacted by the never-ending factional fighting. In the late ‘80s, Slobodan Milosevic (MI-LO-SE-VITCH) became head of the Communist Party of Serbia and, through a series of manipulations as the Soviet Union fell apart, became head of first the communist, then the socialist government of Serbia in l99l. At about the same time, new leaders (both former communists) were elected in Slovenia and Croatia. Franjo Tudjman (TOOJ-MON), a Communist Partisan general under Tito, became president of Croatia.
-In l99l, first Slovenia, then Croatia, declared their independence, claiming the right to do so under the Yugoslav constitution. Milosevic sent troops to Slovenia, but it was recognized by other Western powers and a cease fire was fairly quickly negotiated. In the case of Croatia it was trickier, given the history and the fact that 6-800,000 ethnic Serbs lived in the region, and despite its recognition by Western powers the Yugoslavian Army (Serbian controlled) got involved (some intending, doubtless, to right the wrongs done by the Ustasi/Nazi forces), resulting in considerable bloodshed.
-Bosnia-Hercegovina came next, declaring its intention to become independent, and Macedonia followed. Serbia, with a claim that 30% of ethnic Serbs live outside the national boundaries of Serbia and Montenegro (all that was left, officially becoming the third Yugoslavia in l992), saw its dreams of a Greater Serbia being demolished. In that context, Bosnia-Hercegovina was perhaps the hardest to take. 45% of the population of B-H is Muslim (of whom many are in fact ethnically Serbian), 35% is Serbian and the remaining 20% are Croatian. Though they have lived in relative peace, as neighbors, for decades, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the new drives for independence around them created a climate wherein a new surge of nationalism was rekindled among many. Old hatreds were revisited, like old scabs being picked off, and propaganda campaigns were begun which undermined progress. While a plebiscite calling for independence passed, with the voting going largely along ethnic lines (Croats siding with Muslims), a subsequent election was held which Bosnian Serbs largely boycotted. It elected a multi-ethnic, multi-religious government, headed by Alija Izetbegovic (IT-SUH-BEG-O-VITCH). Civil war resulted, though it is clear to most objective observers that Serbia and the JNA (the Yugoslavian Army) are not only waging the war on the side of Bosnian Serbs, but are for all practical purposes directing it as well. (The nominal head of the Bosnian Serb forces is a former psychiatrist named Radovan Karadzic [KA-RAD-ZITCH].)
-The fighting has been terrible, with “ethnic cleansing” campaigns going on in which one force will simply clear all “enemy” men, women and children out of a town or area by whatever means necessary. Mass slaughters are reported, as is the use of concentration camps, rape, torture and anti-civilian terror. Because the Serbs are perceived as being the worst violators of human rights and the laws of war in these battles, they have been getting the worst press. The result seems to be that their snipers and gunners are targeting members of the press
-The world community, through the UN, has called for an end to the slaughter, particularly of civilians, and has put in place an embargo on all shipments of weapons and certain strategic supplies to the region, but many hold that the embargo is only hurting the Bosnian Muslim forces because the Bosnian Serbs are in fact armed and supplied by Yugoslavia’s army (once the 4th largest in Europe).
-Sarajevo, the capital city, with its mixed population of nearly 400,000, is seen as being emblematic of the existence of Bosnia-Hercegovina and has been under siege by Serb forces since April of l992. The UNHCR has taken on the responsibility of seeing to it that food and provisions sufficient to their needs get in to the people who live there. For this, and because the UN has been critical of Serbian actions in the war, UN personnel are also being targeted.
-That’s one of the reasons Barbara said they were going to see to it that there were enough flak jackets (bullet-proof vests) for us to wear when we go with the UN convoy into Sarajevo. Because she also said there was a shortage of them and it would be a good idea if I could borrow one somewhere, it’s another reason I don’t want to lose my suitcase. There’s a Kevlar vest in it that I borrowed from a friend in law enforcement.
We are, through sheer dumb luck and/or the grace of God, managing to enter the area 5 days after a cease-fire agreement was signed. That's the good part. The not-so-good part is that cease-fire agreements in this conflict have traditionally been scoffed at by both sides and this one is no exception.
As we begin our descent toward Zagreb, Phil points out the landscape below - hilly, forested with deep ravines - and says, “Not a good place to fight a land war.” (That’s the line we’ve been hearing from the Pentagon about why the US shouldn’t get involved here militarily.)
Tuesday, November l7, l992 - Zagreb
As we near the ground a line of C-l30s is visible, on-loading food and supplies for Sarajevo. After a smooth landing we taxi around and pull up a short distance from the terminal. A car and some men in suits are waiting at the foot of the movable stairway and as we disembark they collect a tall, distinguished looking man from our midst; a diplomat of some stripe, it's clear. It’s cold here, windy, overcast.
A quick shuttle to the customs area and we’re nearly the first in line. I’m wondering what we’ll do if there is a visa requirement and I don’t have the pictures. An English-speaking soldier asks a question of Barbara and we’re all pulled out of line and sent to a window marked “Visas.” Uh oh. Another soldier behind the window asks for passports, which we give him, stamps something on a document, plugs it into the passport and hands it back. So far, so good. Back in line. Passport check; no problem, we’re through and into the baggage claim area.
As we’re waiting, hoping, a woman comes over and asks for “Mr. Farrell.” She takes me to a counter and explains that my luggage (and Stephanie’s) didn’t make the flight. Ah. She quickly adds that it has been shipped by Air France to Frankfurt (Frankfurt?) and that they are expecting it to arrive at l2:30 on the Lufthansa flight from there. Well, it’s not Zanzibar, but why Frankfurt? Why Lufthansa? Because there isn’t another Air France flight to Zagreb until tomorrow or the next day or next year or something. (God, would I like to get my hands on that guy in Kenya!) So, what do you do? Phil and Barbara collect their bags (clever people) and we head out to look for our ride.
No one is here to meet us yet, so Barbara goes to find a phone and Phil and Stephanie line up to change some money. (Croatian Dinars are about 350 to $1, so you get what looks like a lot for your money.)
Many blue helmeted, sometimes blue bereted, UN soldiers are walking around here, part of UNPROFOR (United Nations Protective Force, sent in to separate the warring factions, provide some stability). Shoulder patches identify them as being from Belgium, Canada, etc. (It turns out one of the Canadians knows a guy named Cheeseman I met last summer on my motorcycle trip who told me he was headed here. They’re stationed together about an hour away, so I send regards. Small world.) We bump into some Americans, part of a MASH unit that’s stationed here at the airport to provide medical services needed by UN personnel. (There are some very hard feelings on the part of the Croats toward the UN. Serbs pushed Croats out of areas on the Croatian side of the border that were populated largely by Serbs [ethnic cleansing]. Croats expected UN forces to escort them back into the homes and towns that had been “cleansed,” but UNPROFOR commanders interpret their mission strictly. They don’t want to enter into the fighting, just stop it in place, at least for now. Croats feel this puts the UN on the side of the Serbs by validating the taking of their land. Pretty tricky stuff. Without saying as much, the presence of the US MASH unit suggests that UN forces don’t feel totally safe being turned over to Croats when in need of medical attention.)
Barbara, having been totally unsuccessful on the phone (you have to speak Serbo-Croatian [or, as they prefer it here, Croat-Serbian]), finds us and we sit in a bar, awaiting our ride. Soon Mike Keats, a UNHCR rep, shows up. In his late 40s or early 50s, Mike is an Englishman, a journalist by profession, who has come to the UNHCR fairly recently. A jolly fellow, thickset with greying hair and a rich voice, he's full of stories. Mike agrees that we might as well wait the hour or two for the flight from Frankfurt in the hopes that our bags will be on it rather than drive into the city only to turn around and come back. He takes us upstairs to a better bar that overlooks the landing strip and gives us a bit of a run down on the situation here.
It's OK to drink the water, he says (though I notice we all seem to prefer to stick to the bottled variety). If there's going to be a concern, it'll be after we get into Bosnia, particularly Sarajevo where conditions are pretty rough. Though it's not always outwardly visible, the relationship here between us and them (the UN and the Croats) can get tricky. The UNHCR is trying to behave in an even-handed manner, showing no favorites, and each tends to interpret any assistance to the other side as favoritism.
As a Royal Jordanian airliner lands and rolls by, Mike indicates that a shipment of arms bound for Bosnian Muslims was confiscated from one of them recently. (Another tricky aspect of this situation. Many of the world's Muslims, particularly those in the Arab world, make the assumption that the US and other nations have not cared as much about the tragedy here because those getting most of the punishment are believers in Islam.)
The time has since come and gone that the Lufthansa flight was supposed to be here, so I wander down to find out what's happening. The man at the ticket counter says the flight has been delayed, which seems fairly evident, further indicates that it is still on the ground in Frankfurt, which is not thrilling. I find a woman in Lost Luggage (a concept that leaves me chilled) who says the plane is on the way and should be landing in minutes. When I mention that my bags are supposed to be on the flight, she says, "Yes, probably." Ah hah. That doesn't sound, I suggest, as though she's very sure. Isn't there a way of knowing if the bags made the flight? Apparently not, as she indicates that she returned from London yesterday on this flight and her bags didn't make it either! She's hoping they're on this plane. I go back to my bottle of water.
Back in the bar I'm surprised to see a familiar face. Ells Culver, head of Mercy Corps International, has just arrived to check out the situation. Ells, a good man, is a friend of Margie's. He was on our trip in '86 to Paraguay and Chile and on the '88 trip to the Middle East. Relief work is his life and, though he comes at it from a religious perspective, he does it with a kind of quiet determination and selflessness that are characteristic of too few, in my experience.
Finally, after a couple of bottles of water, some hard bread and a few more trips up and down the stairs, a twin-engine turbo-prop aircraft with Lufthansa on the side comes in for a landing and taxis to the apron below us. Shortly it disgorges a number of people, most of them military types, and a large number of duffel bags and other suitcases, but nothing that looks familiar. Fingers crossed, we head down to the baggage area. No dice. Didn't make the flight. The woman from Lost Luggage is there, happy about having gotten her bags, and very sweetly reassures us that tomorrow is another day. She says ours didn't make it because they used a smaller plane today out of Frankfurt, but they'll be here on the same flight tomorrow. Probably. Aargh!
So, Mike loads us up into his UNHCR 4-Wheel Drive Nissan land-rover- type thing (by this time I'm making a point of sitting in the cramped rear end, probably to prove to myself that I can) and we head for the city.
Zagreb is a bustling city, a major metropolis. About three quarters of a million people live here and it's a modern European city in every respect. A wonderful sight is its active trolley car system! The architecture, particularly in the downtown section, gives a sense of history, class, artistry. Narrow, cobbled, shop-lined streets cross busy avenues complete with trolley tracks. It's very attractive, very much what we've come to expect in western Europe, with none of the drab, functional, utilitarian aspect the eastern European stereotype leads one to expect.
At the InterContinental there is a bit of a glitch about rooms. Evidently Zagreb is the place to be these days. Americans, Europeans, many in uniform, many others looking as if they should be. Barbara is looking for the fellow with whom she had arranged things on this end so someone can get us settled. She wants to get on the horn and put the weight of the UN behind an urgent plea to get our bags in here tomorrow. We're to leave the city tomorrow night and it will be a long, smelly, cold trip without them. (I went for a week without bags in El Salvador once and hope to never repeat the experience [even if it is cooler here.])
Finally, Manoel rides to the rescue. Manoel De Almeida e Silva, the primary UNHCR rep in Zagreb, is a Brazilian in his early to middle 30s. Great looking, with lots of curly black hair, flashing dark eyes, a terrific smile and a very pleasant manner, he's not at first glance the type you'd be comfortable leaving your date with while you went to get the car. Fortunately, it turns out he's also a good fellow, yet another dedicated soul.
Manoel gets us set up in rooms and then we meet in the lobby, where he explains that the need for ID photos is to attach to a UN identity card without which we'll never get into Bosnia. As he hits the phones with Barbara, Mike takes me over to a local shop where I get yet another picture taken, though this trip is not nearly as exotic as was following the Sergeant in Nairobi. Mike points out the library, the court building, and an intriguing place, formerly a government office, now a restaurant/club wherein, he says, all the waiters are actors between gigs at the state-supported theater. Nothing new to me, I point out. In Los Angeles, every waiter is an actor out of work.
The photo studio is a clean, modern little place set back off the street in a kind of courtyard/arcade. To get in we have to run a gauntlet of high school students apparently just dismissed from somewhere nearby. I'm struck by how much, in style, manner and attitude, they look like high school kids at home. The shop is run by a family whose pretty teenaged daughter takes care of me with dispatch and we are quickly headed back out into the cold, now slightly drizzly, afternoon, with Mike waxing loquacious about the beauty of the Croatian women (no argument here) and lamenting the fact that the current trend seems to be for them to bleach out their beautiful dark hair. "They all want to be blondes, for some reason," he groans. The Madonna curse.
At the hotel, Manoel introduces us to Franklin Havlicek, from the Washington Post, whose card indicates he's a business agent of some sort rather than a reporter. (Barbara is a bit chagrined that he's here, says he had tried to strong-arm his way into our group when she was setting up the trip. She passed, not caring for the approach, nor, I have a sense, particularly trusting the guy.) Franklin is blonde, athletic-looking, mid 30s. He asks a couple of questions of each of us about why we're here, though it seems to be more out of curiosity than for publication, and makes a point of expressing to me his admiration for what we're doing. (He does seem to be trying very hard.)
Manoel says we might want to reconsider our plans. The schedule calls for us to fly to Split (on the Dalmatian Coast) tomorrow night, join up with a UN convoy the next morning and ride into central Bosnia with them, making our way to Sarajevo after that. The concern, he says, is that there has been shelling on the road in the last few days (and to confuse matters further, they suspect that the Croats have been planting charges under the surface of the road and setting them off by remote control as the trucks go by to make it appear that there is shelling even when the Serbs lay off). One of the trucks in the convoy was damaged by an explosion today. No one was hurt, but the truck is useless. In light of that, Manoel suggests, we might want to consider flying into Sarajevo with one of the UNHCR supply flights and avoiding the trip by road altogether. (The supply flights themselves are not completely without risk, he quickly adds. In the past few days the Serbs have been ratcheting up the tension by "locking on" the supply aircraft as they fly in and out of Sarajevo. Locking on is the term used to indicate that radar-guided missiles are trained on you and activated. Modern anti-missile detection can read the signals from the opposition weaponry that indicates such a development has taken place and is thereby warned. It's tantamount to the difference between having someone point a gun at you and having the same person, in an effort to show how serious he or she is, take careful aim and cock the weapon. In modern warfare, since each knows the other is reading the signals, locking on is a way to communicate a threat that one knows the other must respond to, at least by getting more nervous. In this case, no one thinks the Serbs are going to shoot a UN supply plane out of the sky, but since one was knocked down by a missile a few months ago, you can't be completely sure.)
The land route that has been shelled with some regularity is the main highway north from Metkovic (MET-KO-VITCH), through Mostar (where the truck was destroyed this morning). There is an alternate route that some of the convoys take through the mountains that avoids Mostar, the problem being that it takes a number of hours longer than does the Mostar road. Interested in having the experience of riding in the convoy and not wanting to miss the chance to see Bosnia from the ground, we decide we'll stick to the original plan. Franklin says much as he'd like the experience he's not sure his schedule will allow the time, so he'll probably fly in. That decided, Manoel says we may have the chance to meet with his boss, Jose Maria Mendiluce, before dinner, if we'd like. We would.
Jose Maria Mendiluce is a Spaniard, a Basque, who looks to be in his early 40s. Maybe 5'8" or 9", nice looking, dark hair, solidly built, he was selected by High Commissioner Ogata to be her Special Envoy to Ex-Yugoslavia after having served in some of the world's other hot spots. He carries a sense of angry purpose as he walks in and sits down. This is not a man, you get the feeling, who suffers fools gladly. He's been here for a year and you get the sense that it's taken a dreadful toll. He's very polite, almost courtly, but there is a pool of frustration, perhaps rage, boiling beneath the surface.
"Our main problem," he says, "is not lack of food. It is lack of access." As if to illustrate, he tells us that he had to personally lead a convoy of supplies that day through a demonstration of "extremely emotional" Croatian women who had lined up across the road in an attempt to block it, to keep it from getting into an area where there are Serb refugees (this, obviously, in or near the disputed border area). "You are feeding our enemy," was the complaint.
The problem in Serbia, he says, is demonstrated by the difference between Milosevic and Panic. (Slobodan Milosevic [MI-LO-SE-VITCH] is the acknowledged Serb leader, promoter of "Greater Serbia," who believes he is leader of "all" Serbs, wherever they live. Milan Panic [PAN-ITCH], born in Serbia, moved to the US, made millions in the pharmaceutical business and returned to Serbia to become its Prime Minister last year, is the moderate, pro-Western voice. At issue is who speaks for the Serbs? Is Panic a serious contender?) Milosevic, a hard liner, is truly in control, feels "responsibility" for all Serbs. Panic has offered l00 trucks from the Serbian Government to take aid into Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The UN-inspired blockade of Serbia, Jose Maria says, isn't working. Last September there were huge lines for fuel at Belgrade's gas stations and indications were that it was going to work, causing the war to wind down. Today, fuel and pretty much everything else is readily available as a result of smuggling and blockade running and the war, in Bosnia-Hercegovina at least, rages on.
The Serbo-Croatian war has pretty much been resolved by the Vance plan (Cyrus Vance, Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, has been appointed Special Envoy and mediator here by Boutros Boutros-Ghali of the UN). While things are not by any means fully resolved here, the cease-fire is, at this point, holding.
UNPROFOR, the UN Protective Force, is disliked by all sides because of misperceptions of their intent. They came to stop the fighting, to demilitarize the area and eventually see to the resettlement of those "removed." The Serbs have gotten around the agreement to transfer out all troops by changing the status of their soldiers in the disputed area to that of "police" and keeping them there, thus maintaining the military threat at the same time as they are technically in concert with the accords. Talks continue.
Of Radovan Karadzic (KA-RAD-ZITCH)(nominal Serb leader in B-H), Jose Maria says he is a psychiatrist by profession. In an ironic twist, he says, he is also a "paranoid." Karadzic, he says, is "convinced that Serbs are under attack" and that they, therefore, "must kill first."
He says, "His analysis is his agenda." Before the war began, Karadzic predicted all the horrors that would occur if the UN/EC (European Economic Community) acted against Serbia. "It was his agenda." He quoted Karadzic as saying "It (the war) will continue. If the Americans intervene, it will be extended into the Balkans and beyond."
Mendiluce says Karadzic is now losing power to a General Vladic, his Minister of Defense, who is "a criminal." Vladic has all the military power, he says, and is responsible for the ethnic cleansing push. And now even the General is losing authority to local leaders. "They (Karadzic, Vladic, etc.) are responsible because they encouraged the local leaders to behave horribly. They are still legally responsible."
He says the "paranoid approach of the Serbs" generally can be attributed to the fact that they're convinced that the rest of the world is against them. "They are convinced that they must kill first."
Of his own situation, Mendiluce says, "I want to leave here as soon as I can. I'm fed up... horrified by what I've seen. I've been here for a year now... it's too much." He's been with the UNHCR for l4 years and has served in Angola, Nicaragua, other places in Latin America. "Everything I saw before was like a tea party..." compared to this.
He's never seen anything like "the level of hate" here. In Angola there were primitive atrocities, but they were to be somewhat expected in that it was a primitive society. In Central America "I saw crimes." He was "shocked by the killing of the Jesuits" who were "friends." In Nicaragua, there were crimes committed by both sides, but that, at least, had a political justification. "Here, it is war against a civilian population. That is the end (the intended result) of this war. It is because they want them to move. They want to drive them out."
The "enormous imbalance" here is demonstrated in the number of civilians killed. "Over l00,000 dead civilians." There is "indiscriminate terrorism by forces theoretically out of control, with the aim of forcing them (civilians) to leave." There are, he says, "mass graves" all around Bosnia. "When this is over, they will be unearthed."
"I've seen heads of women and children, without ears, in the streets. Bodies of women and children everywhere."
Sarajevo, with its population of 400,000, is in ruins. "For seven months, it's been happening in full view of the world."
Historically, "we were vaccinated by the horrors of World War II. Not here. Here, refugees tell of horrors, then recall WWII, obsessively, as explanation."
"(They say) why are we killing children? Because if they are not killed they will become adults and kill us." (I believe he said the above statement was made to him by the Serbian director of a hospital in Banja Luca.)
Q. What will stop it?
"All human beings have a dark side. When these people were orphaned by Tito's death, the politicians found nationalism as a way to power. They manipulate, largely through the use of media - messages of hatred, racism - accusing the "enemy" of all sorts of ugly things. Then suddenly, you see a normally calm, orderly people become suspicious, distrustful, separate."
"The Serbs (leadership) became intoxicated with power. They spread more hate, more fear, through stories about 'others,' about the Muslims. Then they sent out two or three paramilitary groups into the Muslim areas to attack, to start trouble. When the Muslims, having been attacked, struck back, the Serbian paramilitary groups were 'forced' to go back again, to 'respond to the provocation.'"
"One of the reasons I'm so horrified," he says, "is that I was living with Serbs, Muslims and Croats in Sarajevo for months. They said, 'they will never force us to fight each other!'"
"40% of the population in Sarajevo is involved in mixed marriages. So far, the city has held. So, they (the Serbs) will destroy it."
Q. So it's a no-win situation?
"Always. The question is, 'why stay?' We are shelled, attacked, insulted. The international community should deal with this situation. But we must continue, even if we're in a no-win situation, because every day Sarajevo survives we are winning. Every day, hundreds of thousands of people survive because of us.
"We are going to save as many people as we can. We are shelled, we are shot at, we are made victims, but we cannot call for a military response. What we can do is show the world what is happening."
Q. Are there specific attacks on Jews?
"No. There is no reason for Jews to be the subject of special discrimination in this situation."
Q. Is any of the forces in power (in B-H) capable of entering into a viable peace agreement?
"A nice man. Over his head. He has a hard time expressing himself in English, let alone Serbian. Many will vote for Panic even though he's alien and unknown and has been brought in (allowed in?) by Milosevic as a manipulation.
"Panic has become an alternative, but doesn't control the media, the police, the secret service or the army. Nor does he control the Bosnian leaders.
"If Milosevic doesn't do well in the election, he won't step aside. He will extend the war. Karadzic has already stated the agenda."
"If Panic were to win, he would need positive gestures such as relaxation of the embargo, but the international community can't do that because it would simply put more weapons into the hands of Milosevic."
"They (Milosevic, Karadzic) laugh about the Security Council, about New York. They do what they want, day after day. The international response is too little, too late."
"The UN idea of 'safe zones' inside Bosnia will essentially become micro refugee camps - another Gaza Strip. There are 1.5 million Muslims in B-H, who will eventually be either killed, expelled or concentrated."
"If they continue to stop us, to shell convoys, to frustrate our aims, they will eliminate the Muslims."
"They are toying with the international community. Every day the convoys are stopped, 600,000 people go hungry (each convoy [or 2] carries 200 metric tons of food and supplies). Diplomats stop on weekends - Serbs don't stop on weekends. Sarajevo needs 260 metric tons per day of food. When we achieve that for two days, they shoot, they shell, they threaten, they interfere. Clearly this is centrally coordinated. Patterns are clear. When international pressure is too great, all of these 'uncontrollable irregulars' become easy, friendly."
(There is, he says, some loss of supplies, foodstuffs from the convoys. It's different from the situation in Somalia, but also the same. He's very proud of his staff, which works in impossible circumstances, sometimes using cigarettes as payoffs to drunken Serb "irregulars" who would stop the shipments.)
He "can't think beyond saving the 1.6 million Muslims trapped in Bosnia and the Serbs and Croats who have been displaced. We have enough food and supplies and now for the first time in history we have 6,000 troops to protect the delivery of relief supplies."
"We can now open fire, but we have to be realistic about the possibility of the use of force."
"It was originally stated that we had 400,000 people at risk this winter. Now it is 1,000,000 people at risk."
"Everyone knows the Serbs are bastards. Most feel the Croats are democrats. In fact, the Croats are behaving like neo-fascists and are even more frightening (because of this misunderstanding)."
Q. Should we arm Bosnia?
"It's difficult to say it's too late when to do nothing is worse. It's difficult to say it's too late when it's too late."
He then went into a description of the vise in which the Muslim forces find themselves, effectively caught between Serbs and Croats. Pockets of Muslim enclaves, some large, some impossibly small, dot the map of Bosnia. Most have been cut off, driven out or eliminated by the Serbs. As they consolidate in Central Bosnia and in or near Sarajevo they are being pressed from all sides by Serbian forces. Croats, apparently feeling the die is cast, are rumored to have struck a deal with the Serbs to divide B-H between them, with a portion of Serbian Bosnia eventually destined to become part of Greater Serbia and a Croatian portion, now controlled by the HVO (Croatian forces), to become part of Greater Croatia. More and more, it seems, when Serbian military pressure lets up on the Muslim forces, it is replaced by Croatian pressure.
Q. Is it correct in this situation to use the word genocide?
"For Bosnia? Yes."
An interesting man. Clearly in great pain. Lots of information, most of it very disturbing. After Jose Maria leaves, Manoel shows us a detailed map of Bosnia-Hercegovina so we can better understand some of the contested areas JM described. He also shows us where our convoy will gather, the alternative routes, etc. The convoy is headed for Vitez, in the center of the country, where UNHCR has a warehouse from which the supplies are then distributed to the places of greatest need. (Per the possibility of meeting hostile Serb checkpoint guards who may give trouble, Barbara has told us her information has it that Deutschmarks are the currently favored currency for crossing palms. US Dollars are second.)
Mike Keats, his wife and Manoel then take us to an Italian restaurant for dinner. It's a pleasant little basement bistro off a side street downtown. The night has turned colder, the wind is still blowing but, though the streets are wet, the rain has stopped. Dinner is good, highlighted by an unforgettable waiter.
Getting food for those of us of the vegetarian persuasion hasn't, so far, proved to be the gigantic problem I had anticipated. Interestingly, the Italian influence has been evident in both Somalia and here in ex-Yugoslavia, so pasta dishes have been plentiful as this little place demonstrates.
What they're not good at, at least here, is adjusting. Asked if a certain dish could be prepared without the meat ingredient indicated on the menu, the waiter, totally lacking in "tableside manner," looks at the questioner a bit contemptuously and says a flat, "no." Undaunted, the customer presses on, asking if some other concession (this a fairly simple thing) is possible. This time the waiter sucks his teeth, making a kind of exasperated "tsk" sound, and looks at the ceiling before saying "no" in a way that suggests this is the most stupid question he's ever heard. Phil and I catch each other's eyes and, I guess because of the sheer audacity of the fellow's attitude, start to laugh. This, if it has any effect on him at all, eggs him on to greater lengths. By the time this guy works his way around the table he has succeeded in insulting almost every one of us with a variety of looks, grunts, sighs, "tsks" and grimaces that has Phil and me almost under the table.
Ah, well, a good laugh is a good laugh. And, as I said, the food was good. To the hotel and to bed.
Wednesday, November l8, l992 - Zagreb.
Up early, put on what may be my last set of clean underwear for the week, have breakfast and then we head out on another cold, blustery day, to a UNHCR resettlement camp for Bosnian Muslim refugees at Karlovac (CAR-LOW-VATCH), Croatia, about an hour out of Zagreb. Stephanie and Barbara seem to be fine, which, considering how lousy they were feeling a couple of days ago, is incredible. Barbara says Air France and Lufthansa are being deluged by calls from the UN in New York, Geneva and Zagreb insisting that the missing luggage receive priority attention and get here today without fail. It's nice to have a bit of clout on our side in this one, though I'll be terrifically embarrassed if my bags bump a critical shipment of blood plasma or some urgently needed vaccine. (On second thought, let 'em die. I want my boots, my down jacket, my bullet-proof vest!)
The four of us are accompanied by Irina, a Croatian MD who is working for the UNHCR as an interpreter, and Pirvo Dupuy, a Finnish woman who has been working with the refugees at Karlovac, particularly focused on cataloguing human rights violations.
Irina, a pretty blonde (is Keats right?) in her early 30s, says she's working as an interpreter because, for now, there is no work in her field. (There is tremendous unemployment in Croatia, though it's hard to believe there could be too many doctors.) She "doesn't like politicians." Is happy to be working for the UNHCR. Thinks Manoel is great.
She says things are better now than under communism. How? Freedom to choose way/place to worship. Freedom to pursue an education, etc.
She says the war with Serbia was/is a war of liberation. 10,000 young men were lost. Many are invalids as a result. Says the Croats support the Bosnian Muslims and hate the Ustasi, who shouldn't be confused with all Croats. All groups have extremists. Croats will find a way to co-exist with the Muslims. She doesn't want a "Greater Croatia."
Pirvo says quietly (we're in the back) that that doesn't square with her assessment. She saw two old friends greeting each other in the railroad station recently by using the Nazi salute. Saw President Tudjman come down the street in the midst of a fleet of black limousines the other day. Police cars preceded them, stopping all the traffic. Limos raced by at about 70MPH. Didn't look like democracy to her.
Q. to Irina - Do the people of Croatia believe that Milosevic and Kradzic are extremists who represent a portion of the Serbs and that there are a significant number of other Serbs with whom they (Croats) could live in peace?
A. "Not a significant number. They've been so isolated and so propagandized that they believe what they're told. Milosevic and Karadzic are psychopaths."
The driver turns into an area of strife to show us the war. Passing through a Croat checkpoint and on into no-man's-land, we drive through a community that is shot to hell. The buildings are in tatters, with windows gone, walls torn away or pock-marked with bullet holes, signs of destruction everywhere. Improbably, there are indications that people are trying to continue to live in this area. A couple of cars, apparently serviceable, sit outside a building that looks to have been thrashed. Wash hangs on a line beside a nearly destroyed house. The tenacity of some people is astonishing. Just short of the Serb checkpoint we turn back and resume our journey to the camp.
Pirvo, late 30s, early 40s, dark hair, dark eyes, an otherwise attractive face lined with fatigue and/or the strain of the work she's doing, speaks quietly of the stories she's hearing of rape, torture. "All these people, one year ago, they were living the same as you and me. What happened?"
We enter Karlovac, a small, drab town, and drive through the narrow streets to a square that is emblematic of the history of the area. On one side is a Roman Catholic church. Directly across from it is an Eastern Orthodox church. During the war the Serbs evidently shot up the R.C. Church when they controlled the town. When the Croats took it back they returned the favor, the result being a current concern that the heavily damaged Orthodox church may collapse. Ironically, the structures between them most endangered in the event of such a collapse are the two abandoned cement barracks (from the Austro-Hungarian era) which now provide temporary shelter for the between l600 and 2000 refugees currently in residence.
These refugees, mostly men, have recently been freed from two of the most infamous of the Serbian camps, Trnopolje (TER-NYA-PO-LEE) and Manjaca (MAN-YAH-KAH). Some have been here since the beginning of October, others have arrived as late as last weekend. Though it goes without saying, we're asked to be sensitive to their emotional condition as well as to the fact that some may have family still in Bosnia and thus not be willing to say much.
One hardly knows what to think about what goes on in the mind of a torturer. Pirvo says they've found that the day Croatia was recognized by the United Nations and the western powers as an independent nation was the day the torture victims in the camps remember suffering more than any other.
We're told that this camp is open to people in the community. Many visited on the day last week when the most recent busloads of those freed were brought in. There is some feeling that this exposure is good for the locals because they then have more understanding of the need for special care, less resistance to the refugees.
The UNHCR has been extremely frustrated by the lack of response from the international community to the appeal to resettle these people. As of our visit, one group of l00 had left for Norway on l0/l5 and a group of 208 for Switzerland on l0/29. One source of frustration is that the failure of other nations to open their doors to these people prevents the UNHCR from bringing others out of the camps and into these temporary centers. The week prior they had to cancel plans to evacuate 5,000 more from camps in Bosnia because there was no room at the inn.
People are gathered, talking, smoking, by the entrance, wrapped up, huddled against the cold, as we drive up and park. Stepping across the puddles toward the steps I'm struck by the quiet. Even though there are many people around, more as we enter a long, dank concrete hallway, and many of them are talking to one another, it is all done in low tones. No raised voices. Certainly no laughter.
Pirvo comments that "the new group is highly disciplined." As a result of? "Good question. When they were first here they were robotic, silent. Now they're loosening up."
We thread our way between these men who look at us without expression. When we try a smile and a nod, some respond in kind. Heading for the office, we pass rooms off the corridor that are jammed full of people (mostly men, though some have apparently been joined by their families), a jumble of bunk beds, clothing hanging on lines, the smell of too many bodies living in too close a proximity, a pall of cigarette smoke. The corridor opens into a central courtyard where many more men stand in lines, mill around. Again, it's very still. Laundry hangs on ropes strung in the courtyard or is laid out on tables, chairs, hoping to dry a bit before the rain starts again.
Feeling vaguely idiotic, the intruder, gawker, I nod and apologize with a smile as we pass through a line of patiently waiting men and enter the office. Inside is a hubbub of activity. Life is happening here. A table with coffee, bread, peanut butter is waiting for anyone who wants some at any time. (It's sad, interesting, to watch the refugees make tentative moves toward it, stop, check to see if anyone objects, then finally help themselves.) UNHCR personnel are bustling about, talking among themselves or sitting, interviewing new arrivals, cataloguing names, addresses, histories, the story of what happened, when, where, why, how. Posters line the walls, telling of the plight of refugees in the world, bringing color into what is a dramatically black and white experience. Pirvo goes immediately to meet some need and is swallowed up in work. Irina introduces us to a couple of staff members, then says she knows of some people here who will be willing to tell us of their experiences. We'll start with them as someone on the staff goes through the computer looking for others who have indicated a willingness to speak openly.
We follow Irina back through the solemn crowd and up the stairs to the ICRC clinic. On of the doctors here, she says, is from B-H, was in one of the camps. If he has the time, she's sure he'll talk to us.
First, though, we meet the head of the medical staff here, who tells us that the primary medical problem he has to deal with is attendant to the overcrowding. Whatever diseases they have or might come down with are inevitably passed around, become cyclical. They can deal, he says, with the medical problems, generally. The first large group that came in was in better health, the second group less so. The most prominent medical complaints and treatments have to do with injuries that are clearly the result of beatings.
Irina takes us into a second room and introduces us to her friend, a young doctor, a Muslim, who lived in the area near Trnopolje and was held in that camp for some time. He expresses his concern about retaliation, asks us not to use his name. He's a fairly young man, slight, his hair a bit lighter in color than the dark brown or black of so many we've seen here. There is a great sadness about him, almost a sense of apology as he tells us that many of the men here cry all the time. None can sleep at night. While he, himself, was in Trnopolje, he knows many who were in Manjaca, Keraterm and Omarska, all camps of significantly ugly repute. (Some of the stories he related were of things he had seen, experienced, others were those told him. Because of the fact that his words and our questions had to be interpreted through Irina, it's hard to differentiate between the two.)
- Men had a wire threaded through their tongues and were held in a circle, tied together by that wire.
- At Keraterm, l50 people were murdered, 50 more wounded, all put on a truck and taken away.
- There was a room with metal walls in some sort of structure. Very hot. No windows (or the windows were barred, covered). 200 people were held in the room for four days with no water, little air. They were jammed in so tightly that there wasn't room to even sit down, much less lie down, they had to lean against one another to rest. Finally, the men went wild (he suggested the possibility that some sort of gas, nerve gas, was introduced into the room) and pulled the bars off the windows trying to break out. As soon as they opened the windows, or tried to crawl out of the openings, they were slaughtered by machine guns that had been set up outside. (Two of the survivors of such an experience are here, he says.) There were four of these rooms set up in different places.
(There was some discussion of the feasibility of such an arrangement. How did they have the knowledge to set up this room [or these rooms]? Does it make sense that they had the guns trained on the windows for four full days waiting for the men to try to get out? If that was their intention, why not just kill them at the start and get it over with? The doctor clearly had not experienced this, but had it related to him. [In fact, I had read an account much like this in the NY Times a while back.] There is no question but that he strongly believes it happened. He referred to the time of this terror as "THE NIGHT".)
- Standard procedure was to kill four or five men by beating them with pipes or batons, torturing them with "special sticks with electricity" (cattle prods?), or by using guns or knives. The victims were then used as examples, their bodies put back into rooms with others who had not yet gotten the same treatment.
- Men were forced to beat each other.
- Standard procedure is to take everyone from a house, group of houses, town or area, kill some as examples and put the rest into a camp, thus "cleansing."
- Men from l6 to 60 were kept in certain camps. Women and children were sent to others.
- One woman had her hand held over an open fire in order to extract information from her about where money had been hidden in the house.
- The Serbs send in groups in waves, each assigned a different task. First comes the "cleansing squad," next comes the "robbing squad." The robber's job is evidently the one sought after because they get to keep some of the loot, so it goes to the veterans.
- Trnopolje is known as the camp in which rapes took place. Girls from l2 years of age up were raped. (When questioned about allegations of male rape, he said he didn't want to talk about it.) Every night about 11 PM army trucks and civilian cars came in and took women and girls away, returning them later. Some of these women/girls asked him to examine them afterward, told him of being gang-raped. They asked him to talk to the officer in charge of the camp on their behalf. He did so, after which the women in question were taken away, the guards who allowed the women to be in touch with him were punished and there was no more reporting of rape.
- He, having lived in the area and practiced medicine in the town, known many of the guards before the war. They had been his neighbors. Some wept when talking to him, expressed regret for what they had to do, but said it was the way it had to be. They told him of their belief that the Muslims were intent on slaughtering their families. (He believes there is a special propaganda organization in operation, working to insist these beliefs into the Serb consciousness.)
- Some soldiers from the front lines were assigned to the camp periodically, as a kind of R&R (rest and recreation). They were particularly vicious, stating a need to exact revenge for fallen comrades.
- The doctor had a chance to escape from the camp earlier, but chose not to go because he didn't want to leave his patients.
Expressing our thanks for his willingness to talk about what were clearly painful memories, we left him to his work.
Irina then took us across to another building where we walked upstairs and spoke briefly with different groups of people. We spent some time in the hallway chatting with three beautiful kids, probably not more than 3 or 4 years old. The kids are always the hardest to take in these situations. Who knows what kinds of scars they carry behind those sweet faces?
In one room in particular there were l8 bunkbeds and a large group of people with whom we met for a while. At first they were reluctant to say anything, but after a while opened up a bit. Two young men spoke of life in the camps; torture, beatings, the rape of women.
- The guards would take a group of men out during the day on a work detail, they said, perhaps to gather vegetables. Only half of them would return. Did they, themselves, see any of them killed? No. (Later, one said he had seen some of the bodies.)
- Cars or trucks would come up in the evening. The women would be forced inside and taken away to be raped by soldiers, sometimes by Serb civilians in the town.
Concerned that we were hearing the re-telling of stories which they had been told rather than experienced themselves, we pressed for eye-witness accounts.
- One young man said he had seen his friend hacked to death. Another was in charge of loading of trucks with bodies to be taken away every night.
- They spoke of the "white house," which was known as the torture house. "Those who went in never came out." Were there any specific criteria, was there any particular thing that would cause someone to be sent there? "If they didn't like your face." They often heard the sounds of shots, screams, from the house.
- One young man said his friend had told him of putting l8 corpses into a truck. They had been eviscerated. He had to put their intestines back inside their bodies. Another said he saw the body of a man left on the ground for 3 days. No one was allowed to move it.
- In Omarska camp, one man said he saw the Serbs cut off the penises of Muslims and force others to eat them. He said men were forced to have sexual intercourse with each other as the guards watched and laughed.
- One man spoke of seeing another put in the center of a truck tire and being forced, at gunpoint, to stand there as the Serbs set it afire. He was held there at gunpoint until he was "half burned," then pulled out only to have his arms and legs broken and then be dragged through the camp as an example.
- Did no guards ever object? One who did was imprisoned himself. Later freed by friends, he was re-taken, beaten, forced into labor and left to live outside in the cold.
- 96% of the people in their town were Muslim.
- Though the camps the world knows about are now being monitored by the ICRC, many smaller camps still exist, they say. Dead bodies are disposed of by being dumped in abandoned coal mines in the area.
Leaving this group, after thanking them for their openness, we move back down the stairs. Groups of men are moving mattresses that we had earlier seen stacked against the wall in the hallway, evidently in preparation for new arrivals. Irina introduces us to another young man. As she tells us about him (she says he's "her hero") it becomes clear that he is the young doctor from the camp who refused the chance to escape. (The other doctor must have been telling us of this man's experience when I thought he was describing his own.)
Back in the office, we meet by chance a young woman from the States. Croatian born, raised in the U.S., she is here on the q.t., sent by the U.S. Embassy, where she is normally employed, to interview people from the camps in an apparently sub rosa U.S. attempt to help compile information for a report being put together for the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, a task being handled by former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Apparently in her late 20s or early 30s, she is quite open about being exhausted and nearly overwhelmed by what she's heard. Clearly it is stunning information, difficult for anyone to take in, let alone understand. To my question, she indicates that they are trying to carefully cross-check these claims and that so far they seem to stand up to the scrutiny.
She supports what the doctor told us earlier, that different squads of Serbian "irregulars" had different jobs. In fact, she adds one to the list. The first group would be in charge of "ethnic cleansing," the second in charge of rape, robbery and pillage, then a third would come through and burn down whatever structures they wanted destroyed, to eliminate the possibility of the enemy returning.
Irina reports that all the people the computer shows having expressed a willingness to talk of their experiences are unavailable for a while and, since we've done pretty well in that department already, have an hour's drive ahead of us and may yet need time for a quick shopping tour if our bags didn't make today's flight, we figure it's time to head for Zagreb.
Heading back we're all a bit quiet, thinking about the things we've heard. I'm a bit troubled by the easy way some of these awful stories came out. It's a difficult thing to sort out, because people who have experienced unbelievably brutal treatment can find a way to shield themselves from the pain of it in various ways, one of which makes the telling of the stories sometimes come out in a flat, almost expressionless tone. And, clearly, everyone deals with trauma in his or her own manner, but I have to admit I left Karlovac with the feeling that I had heard some stories from people to whom the thing being described had actually happened and some from people who had heard of these things from others. And, if I'm right, I absolutely understand the desire to repeat the stories of these atrocities, even if they didn't happen to the person relating the experience, because they mustn't be forgotten, mustn't be allowed to be swallowed up in time, sucked dry by clever denial and obfuscation. In a way, for some of these people, I think it might be the only way they have of striking back at those who did these terrible things to them, their families, their countrymen and women.
Back at the InterContinental, Stephanie and I are delighted to find that our bags have turned up and have already been transported here, are in fact waiting for us in Manoel's room. Hot damn, what a relief!
Feeling clean and refreshed just from the knowledge that we can in fact feel clean and refreshed again, we head back out for a bite to eat and a brief stop at a health food store Irina says she can show us. The restaurant is a little Tyrolean style place in a beautiful canyon just out of the main shopping area of the city, not far from the hotel. After our experience with the waiter last night we're a bit gun-shy, but this guy turns out to be fabulous. The menu is one meat dish after another, but after we struggle a bit to make our preferences clear, he gets it. It's as though a light goes off over his head and he says, "What would you like?" After a bit, it becomes clear to us that he means it quite literally and we ask if a couple of things are possible. He says, "Of course, in a moment," and heads off. (This guy should meet the fellow at the Italian place downtown. And smack him.) Soon he's back with a big loaf of some of the best bread I've ever eaten. Phil can't believe it, wants to eat nothing but this bread for the rest of his life. Our waiter next comes up with heaping plates of rice, vegetables, chicken (for those who want it), steaming bowls of wonderful soup. It's heaven! He's so pleasant with it all, it's as though he's the only waiter in the world who understands that it's about service. We enjoy a wonderful meal, Phil leaves about a million Dinar tip and out we go to wait in the cold rain for our driver, who had to run an errand. But nothing can dampen our spirits! Next we find the health food store, which is truly a legitimate health food store, and stock up on things that none of us understand but we buy anyway and stick them in the bag with the second loaf of that delectable bread without which Phil wouldn't leave the restaurant. It's been a day.
The driver shows up and takes us back to the hotel. Because we checked out of our rooms this morning Phil and Barbara's gear plus our newly arrived bags are all in Manoel's room, so we go there to change. It's a bit of a sketch with the five of us climbing over each other, moving the cold weather gear into the carry-on bags we'll take with us, changing into the boots, heavy coats, long-johns, etc., that won't fit in the bags, trying to find someplace to put all the health food stuff and the damned bread, as all the while Manoel is on his computer, trying to finish a document that has to be turned in this evening. This is the life.
As we're trying to figure out how we'll possibly have room for everything, I have to make a decision about my bullet proof vest. It seems silly to have brought it all this way only to leave it here, but Barbara says their search was successful and one for each of us is waiting at the office. The one I have is a white Kevlar vest which has, according to my friend, "Good stopping power." (Hmm.) Manoel says take it. He says if the ones they got us are like the ones he's used on past trips, this one will be better. Oh, what the hell. Maybe I'll wear them both.
By 5:30 we're jamming ourselves, our gear and our bread back in the 4 wheeler and heading for the airport and Croatia Airlines. On the way we have to stop at the UNHCR offices where Barbara and I run up and collect the four flak jackets from Mike Keats. Jesus, these things are heavy! (Hardly something to complain about, I realize.) Two smalls for Barbara and Stephanie and two extra larges for Phil and me. They're built essentially like the one I already have, which covers the back and the chest, but these have some additional protection for the back of the neck and what Mike describes as ceramic plates inside the chest area to give extra security there. None of them have the groin flap that Manoel says is part of the newer models. God, the images all this talk conjures up are enough to make you want to crawl in a hole!
Lugging our new treasures, we get back in the car and head for the airport. Croatia Airlines is vaguely reminiscent of Air Kenya, or whatever it was. It all feels like another life. Our carry-on baggage is a bit exotic, one would think, given that there is no clever way to make a flak jacket look like anything other than what it is, but no one seems to give us a sideways glance. (Maybe if I let it be known I'm carrying two of them...) We take off on time on a cold, rainy night in Zagreb (it gets dark very early here - it's only 6:30 and it's been night for over an hour) and have a fairly uneventful one-hour flight to Split, on the Dalmatian Coast.
Wednesday, November l8, l992 - Split, Croatia.
It's cold and raining in Split. We're met at the airport by Johnny, a driver for the UNHCR, who takes us through the night and into what looks to be a beautiful seaside city. The downtown section in particular makes me wish I could see it in the daylight. Old, beautiful stone churches and medieval-style buildings look out over the seaport as lights across the water tell of hardy people inhabiting islands in the Adriatic Sea.
Johnny parks at a building, locks the van carefully as he tells us of having one stolen the day before, and leads us through a restaurant and down a hall to the office of Bayisa Wak-Woji, the local UNHCR Protection Officer. Probably in his mid-30s, Bayisa is an English-trained lawyer from Ethiopia who, as Protection Officer, is particularly concerned about seeing to it that the refugee's legal rights are recognized and protected. A human rights expert, wearing a coat and tie probably gives him a more formal mien than he intends, or perhaps it's the English training, but he seems a bit stiff at first meeting. Great looking guy, all the same. (And, in fairness, he is here after hours briefing some Hollywood weirdoes who, for all he knows, expect a lot of special treatment. Probably won't eat meat, lose their luggage, create scenes. Real pains in the ass.)
Bayisa tells us of the "accident" with the convoy at Mostar. Says, as we've heard from Manoel, that the Croats have been planting explosive devices beneath the surface of the road and then detonating them, claiming it's Serb shelling. After some hassle at a checkpoint, he says, one of these things was detonated, damaging a UNHCR truck, but no one was hurt.
Q. Why do the Croats do this?
A. It's hard to know. Maybe to increase the tension. Maybe to "prove" the Serbs are violent. Maybe it's because they aren't happy with UNHCR trucking supplies in to the Muslims.
The right wing Croat force is called the HOS. They seem to be the modern counterparts of the old, pro-Nazi Ustasi. The civilian Croat leader in Bosnia is Mate Boban. The Croat Defense Force is led by a General Stoljak, but everyone knows Boban is the real leader (and he reportedly answers to Tudjman).
Bayisa says snipers in Sarajevo are a serious problem. He says they've recently heard reports of "wild card" snipers, mercenaries hired from outside. One report indicates some Danish mercenaries, as well as some from other countries, came in, hired by HOS, were to be paid a bounty for each kill. Per the story, they got tired of working for HOS or fell out with them for some reason, then went to work for the HVO (Croatian Army), left them and are now working "on spec." He says the word is the Danes drive a Nissan Patrol with a red skull mounted on the front. Kill for the sport of it. They're supposed to be staying in a hotel in Vitez and traveling to Sarajevo for their killing game.
As we express our incredulity, Bayisa quickly clarifies that these are just rumors as far as he knows, but points out that it is a truly crazy situation there.
As we're readying to leave, Bayisa says he had arranged for us to have dinner, if we'd like, with two Amnesty International representatives who are in town, but since we have to be up at 4 AM for the drive to Metkovic to catch the convoy he realizes it might be asking too much. I decide to put in an appearance, at least, to hear what they have to say, the others pass.
After checking into a funky little hotel and making provision for an early wake-up call, I head downstairs and jump in the car. The cobbled streets of Split are wet from the rain and gorgeous in the reflected light. We wind through narrow streets (it's frustrating to miss so much of this obviously beautiful city) and find the restaurant, which by my calculation is only a few blocks from the hotel. Figuring I can find my way back (and at least see a little), I decline Johnny's gracious offer to pick me up later and step inside.
It's kind a of neat little joint. Very European. (Surprise.) You step down off the street into the first of two rooms, this one with bar. Lots of people are smoking, which happens everywhere here. Salads and condiments are set out on a side table in the passageway between the two rooms so diners can help themselves while waiting for their entrees. Bayisa and another man are at a table in back of the second room, so I join them and meet Joran (YOUR-AHN), another UNHCR Protection Officer, a tall, good looking guy in his mid-30s, from Sweden.
Before we have a chance to say much more than hello, we're joined by Nicholas Howen and Paul Miller, who are, respectively, Legal Adviser and Researcher for Amnesty International, London. Both are probably in their 30s (I'm getting paranoid about all the kids I'm running into), smart, concerned, dedicated. (Sickening.) And now they're packing off into the wilds of Bosnia-Hercegovina to poke around on their own and ask impudent questions with nothing to protect them but their AI credentials.
Paul spent considerable time in this area a few years ago, doing his master's or doctoral thesis on the people and the culture, so has some interesting views, including an observation that "story-telling" is a highly regarded cultural trait in the region. He says there is always a "kernel of truth" at the center of it, but exaggeration and hyperbole are part of the landscape. This, of course, leads to a discussion, prompted by my concern about the stories we heard at Karlovac, of the possibility that some stories of human rights violations are being embroidered.
A lively and informative discussion ensued, lasting far longer into the night than I had intended to be up. What was generally agreed was that terrible things are happening and have happened and that careful study and assessment is going to be required before anyone can know the full truth.
The Karlovac stories may well have been embroidered, Paul suggests, and the issue of repetition of rumors is a given almost without question.
Contrary to popular view and much of the testimony heretofore given, their investigation up to this point indicates that there has not been systematic rape (which is not to say there has not been a great deal of rape). This observation flies in the face of not only what we've heard at Karlovac and from other sources, but of investigative reports done by Human Rights Watch and others, which is, I presume, one of the reasons they’re here to study it further. (**At this writing, a report has just been issued by a team of EC [European Community] investigators that says that 20,000 Muslim women have been raped by Bosnian Serb soldiers in recent months "in particularly sadistic ways so as to inflict maximum humiliation", that it "cannot be seen as incidental... but as serving a strategic purpose in itself... to achieve... ethnic cleansing." It goes on to denounce "disturbing reports of [rape of] Croat and Serbian women as well as sexual abuse of men in detention camps.")
Stories of bodies being disposed of in abandoned mines, he believes, are also more “lore” than fact. At least that must be considered the case until someone comes up with physical evidence proving otherwise.
All agreed that the world must not allow another Palestinian-style situation to be created here. (And that is a distinct possibility, with the Muslims being forced out as they are.)
Bayisa, after describing specific instances with which he was personally familiar that illustrated cruelties perpetrated by members of each group against the other, said it was his view that "the type and severity of human rights violations are identical on all three sides. The style may differ, in that the Croats are more sophisticated, and the quantity may be different in that the Serbs seem to be responsible for more of them, being the most militarily aggressive."
Much food for thought (as well as actual food - good - more pasta) then I said my goodnights and headed out to find my way back through the beautiful, cobbled, antique streets for a few hours of sleep.
Thursday, November 19, 1992 - Split, Croatia.
4 AM comes very early. Stagger into the shower only to find that the door that's supposed to keep the water from splashing all over the bathroom is missing. Oh, well. Splash. Continuing to do OK by avoiding the water, so brush teeth dry. Pry open eyes, scrape off whiskers, throw on the long johns and head down the stairs.
Still very dark. And very cold. Johnny is there, everyone is assembling. Nick and Paul from last night are going to follow us to Metkovic in their own car, will hitch a ride with the convoy part-way into the countryside. We're a little late getting going and the convoy won't wait, so, as Stephanie stretches out on the seat in the back, Phil and I share the center and Barbara rides shotgun, Johnny puts his foot in it and we're off!
It's a wild ride down the Dalmatian Coast, sometimes held up by local traffic, one time by another convoy of UN vehicles (clearly not the one we’re after, since we race past them when there's a chance). What we can make out of the scenery is splendid. Makes you long for more time. Johnny's driving makes us long for more time, as well. (He's the Croatian version of Ahmad, it occurs.) Phil and I exchange glances periodically as he races around bends, speeds through towns, cuts corners. One time I think I actually yelled out loud as we passed another car on a blind curve - scared the shit out of me! Barbara is quiet in front, probably rigid with fear or passed out. Stephanie, if she’s in fact sleeping, must be in a coma. Phil observes that the idea of snipers is becoming less terrifying by the minute.
As the sun rises, the mountains on our left become more dramatic as they fall into the Adriatic on our right. The winding coastal highway stretches out before us and it becomes clear from the mileage signs that we'll play hell making the jump off point by the appointed time. Johnny periodically slows down, reluctantly, and searches his rear view mirror for the lights of the car carrying the two AI guys following us. Makes me wish I'd volunteered to ride with them.
After the road curves inland for a while we finally, gratefully, come to the turn-off for Metkovic. We sit for a while at that point waiting for Nick and Paul, but then, late already, trusting they'll see the sign and fearing we'll miss the convoy, we press on. Metkovic is a small city, not particularly remarkable, but we are sure glad to see it! Racing through town and into the gates of a large fenced yard with a long warehouse building at the back and what turns out to be an office building at the far end is something of an anti-climax after the hair-raising ride. There’s nobody home! Maybe ten or twelve trucks sit about, apparently empty, a couple of jeep-type vehicles are parked near the warehouse, and two guys stand by one of the doors, hands in pockets. We pull over to them, Johnny asks something and one of them shrugs and shakes his head. Shit! We've missed the convoy!
What now? Johnny pulls down to the office building and we get out, stretch, look around. It’s about 8:15 AM. If we could figure out how long ago they'd left, could we catch them? Would they stop for us? They were expecting us, weren't they?
Johnny, clearly fried, goes in the office, comes out, looks around, seems without a clue. After a bit Nick and Paul show up, then another car comes in the yard, pulls down to us and stops. A man, a Dane, gets out and speaks to Johnny for a minute, then to us in English. The convoy hasn’t left yet! Either one of them (turns out there are to be two that day, one driven by Danes, the other Norwegians), in fact. The Danes will be leaving in about an hour, probably. (Probably?!! I’m back at the Zagreb airport!) You mean we could have had another hour’s sleep? Could have let the wheels touch the ground on the way here? Oh well, what the hell? We’re here, aren’t we?
We take advantage of the extra time by making use of the clean and relatively modern toilet facilities (who knows when we’ll see more such?) up in the office building, then saunter over to the warehouse. Phil, his ever-present CamCorder documenting our every move, gets some shots of the huge piles of sacks of flour, blankets and plastic sheeting inside. A busy group works at a machine, stitching together bags for more supplies, banding boxes, labeling. This is a major operation.
Thankfully, it’s warmer inside the warehouse, too. A large, hangar-like structure fairly brimming with stacks of goods to be taken up into B-H, it has a section partitioned off at one end that serves as an office. Inside there, we’re told, is coffee and a place to stash our gear while we wait. In fact, inside there we find the nerve center of the operation. A man who looks something like Ned Beatty is in charge. He’s an American, Major Mike Felton, and has been assigned here temporarily (and quietly, we get the clear impression) from his regular duty station in Europe. (It seems to be the case that the Americans here are keeping a low profile to avoid any international heat as they lend their expertise to this effort. As was the case with the Marine, Col. Peck, in Mombasa, the MASH Unit in Zagreb and the woman from the US Embassy working in Karlovac, it gives one a good feeling to know that people in powerful places in your country aren’t all just stupid, unfeeling bureaucrats.)
Felton shows us on a giant map of the area that covers one wall just which routes are under discussion for the trips today. Mostar, a short distance north of here, is where the truck was blown up a day or so ago. As we were told, the main route (the best road) goes through there. The alternate route cuts off south of Mostar and heads west, up into and through the mountains, before rejoining the main road and heading to Vitez, where the primary in-country UNHCR warehouse is located. On this map Vitez looks to be in about the center of Bosnia but closer to the northern border than to where we are in the south. The problem with the alternate route through the mountains is that it is through the mountains. It is colder, the roads aren’t as good and all things being equal it will take three to five hours longer than the main road. Through Mostar. Where the shelling was.
Whichever way one goes, Felton points out, just before we reach Vitez we will be passing within a short distance of Travnik, which lies just a bit west and south. Travnik is currently under attack by the Serbs, is undergoing heavy shelling. Travnik is also the recipient of the 30,000 Muslim refugees who fled Jajce (YIY-SEE) after it fell to the Serbs a short time ago.
Pondering our fates, we break out some of the goodies we picked up at the health food store and offer them around to the growing crowd here in the operations room. A young British soldier in uniform is spending a good deal of time on the phone, getting reports of who is misbehaving and in what sector. Two or three other people are at desks and others wander in and out. Most of them are in civilian clothes (including Maj. Felton), but occasionally another uniformed person comes through.
The health food goodies mostly taste like crap, unfortunately. Phil’s bread is still with us, but it’s so hard that it scares most people off, which is OK with Phil. We do find some cookies from the health food store that are pretty good and they make a bit of a splash, but I’m relegated to eating the crappy-tasting-stuff, mostly because the health food store stop was my bright idea.
After a bit we get word that the first convoy out will be the Danish group and if we want to ride with them there is just enough room. OK by us. After a bit more discussion, we're told that the Danish drivers have elected to go the shorter route, through Mostar. Still OK? Barbara, Stephanie, Phil and I confer, decide it's OK. We're in.
Get your kit, it's time to saddle up. We grab our stuff, including what's left of the health food stash and the bread, the flak jackets and the bags and head out into the cold. Putting our gear in the back of the lead jeep, we're introduced to the group of drivers and pair off. Each of us will ride shotgun (figuratively speaking, of course) in one of the trucks. We're told to get into our flak jackets and to bring along an empty bottle. For what? In case you have to pee. If things are hot we may not be able to stop until we get to Vitez, one guy says, and that's a long ride. Well, Jesus, the things you never think about! Come to think of it, what do the women do?
As we're loading up I realize that Nick and Paul have spots in two of the trucks as well. Having the extra vest in my bag, I ask if either of them wants to use it. Paul says he'd appreciate it, so I grab it from the jeep and hand it over. (I'm opting to use the heavier of the two, but he doesn't seem to mind.)
My driver's name is Kim, but since Kim is also the name of the group leader in the jeep at the head of the column, he goes by the nickname "Bear" to keep communications clear on the 2-way radios. Another kid, Bear is probably all of 25 and doesn't speak much English, for which he apologizes. Makes me feel somewhat stupid, as I have to tell him I don't speak any Danish at all. (Nice balance here - Danish drivers of humanitarian goods to off-set the rumored Danish mercenary snipers.)
Bear's truck is a flat-bed, stacked with sacks of flour or grain. The stacks only come up a couple of feet high, I notice, which leaves the rear window (therefore the backs of our heads) exposed, unlike the other trucks that are all the big, closed, box-back types. Hmmm. The interesting things you notice in a situation like this.
The truck is an old Mercedes and has been through some miles. There's a round trap door in the roof above my head as I settle in. It's a curious thing to have in a truck like this. It is also dripping water on me, which is both cold and uncomfortable, so I try to find a way to sit that will cause the water to run down my jacket and onto the floor between my feet, which isn't all that great, but it beats the alternative. (Makes me think of the bad old joke about the guy who buys the suit that doesn't fit unless he walks a certain way.) Fortunately it isn't raining so the water coming in must have accumulated up there during the night and won't last long. If it doesn't rain again.
9:15 AM - We pull out. Our truck is number 6 out of 7. Phil is behind us, bringing up the rear. Bear has only recently gotten here from Denmark. This is his first run. Why do it? "I want to help these people so they stay here and don't come to Denmark." He says his group speaks Danish on the 2-way radios so if any unfriendlies are listening in they won't be able to understand
We're out of Metkovic very quickly. Through a Croat checkpoint and we're into Bosnia.
9:25 AM - Signs of fighting here. Bombed out buildings in small towns. Those left standing appear to be ancient. Beautiful stone structures have been built into the hillside. Stone towers. As we climb a bit the trees are changing colors with the onset of cold weather.
We're into a region of beautiful rolling hills, the occasional farm. Some signs of fighting here, but not much. A gorgeous river runs beside the highway, threading its way through the mountains. Periodically we come to a small village, poor, with small planted plots. Now vineyards. As the mountains get more serious the highway takes us into a tunnel. This is not a pleasant thought for me when considering the likely effects of shelling.
God, this is beautiful country! Then, suddenly, bombed out rubble. Bear says we've been "in Serb gunner's range" for a while now. Thank you very much.
This sweet kid, with his short blonde hair and his bright blue eyes, his boots and his tattoo, has a little white stuffed bear on the dashboard of his truck. It's wearing a Santa Claus hat.
Suddenly a cow walks out in front of us, Bear has to swerve to miss it! After we're past it he says, "the people would be crazy" (if we had hit their cow).
9:51 AM - The convoy has been stopped by the police. There is a tunnel ahead with one lane blocked. It seems to be OK, but it's a bit creepy because they said we wouldn't stop for fear we'd make too good a target. Ah well.
We're moving again. The river beside the highway is overflowing here. Appears to be flooding some houses as we pass. Must be heavy rains in the mountains. As we pass through a residential area I notice a camouflaged gun emplacement at the side of the road.
9:58 AM - Stopped again. This time we all get out for a bit. A chance to hit the bushes for those who need it. Phil, laughing, says all his driver wants to talk about is movies.
Shortly, what we've been waiting for becomes clear as an armed UN convoy passes us. Tanks and half-tracks, looking deadly serious, all painted pure white and marked by a large "U.N." insignia, roll by. The drivers have been in a huddle and head back. We're off again. Bear says a "big trouble" area starts in one kilometer. He says, "Leader says 'don't stop at checkpoint!'" A little unclear, I repeat, "Don't stop?" He says, "Yes." Then, as if to make the point more clearly, "If there's somebody in front of you..." Unable to find the words, he makes a gesture indicating that we push on through, push whoever it might be out of the way. Ahh me. So here we go.
Signs of heavy fighting here. Recent. We're nearing Mostar. Trees are down, some lie part-way in the road, but none block it completely so we can maneuver our way through. Indicating the damage, Bear says, "Mortars."
Cattle on the roadside, eating. Don't they know there's a war on?
Checkpoint ahead. Soldiers. Must be Croats, either HVO or HOS, but not necessarily friendly, witness the earlier episode with the truck. The trucks ahead of us slow, but it is only to negotiate the checkpoint. They've set up obstacles so vehicles have to zig-zag. The soldiers watch us, expressionless, as we make our way through. Weapons are visible, but none held in a particularly threatening way. Bear does a nice job of moving this rig through the obstacles at a good rate. At the last minute, the rear view mirror on my side clips the edge of one of the barriers with a whap!, causing us both to jump. He doesn't hesitate, continues on through without a backward glance. I can't manage the same aplomb, turn and look out of the back window (feeling very exposed, wishing it wasn't so easy to see what was going on back there). No guns pointed our way. No one seems to care that we vandalized their property. Phil and his driver are coming through on our tail without a hitch. OK.
We're in Mostar. Heavy fighting here recently. The city is dotted with ruined buildings. On our left we pass an apartment building, probably 6 or 8 stories high, one wall completely gone from a point about half-way up leaving the insides of many apartments exposed to the elements, to our view. A woman in a red robe stands in one of the rooms on the top floor, going about the business of her life.
By the side of the road, kids play with toy guns. As we drive by they flash signs. Bear explains that two fingers held a certain way is a Croat sign, three fingers is for Serbs. (Or is it the other way around?) It's the Crips and the Bloods.
Cars and trucks lie mangled at the roadside.
10:18 AM - Truck ahead stops at a checkpoint. Moves ahead slowly. Stops again. The driver from the truck just ahead comes back quickly, Phil's driver from behind comes up, the two talk with Bear through the window, sprint back to their vehicles. As we wait some more, Bear reports, "Too many meters between him and us," indicating the truck ahead. (We're to stick closer to him.) "He's an old driver, in front of us."
10:26 AM - We're moving again. Slowly. Passing through the checkpoint, it's reassuring to see the armed UN vehicles that passed us earlier standing here. This is evidently the reason they came past us before.
More houses shot to hell. Power lines are down in the road.
10:32 AM - Kim, the leader, checks in by 2-way. Bear says, "We got stolen a car like this yesterday." This is the place, then, where the truck was destroyed. Bear says they off-loaded its supplies and went on, came back later for the truck and it had "disappeared." And these are the friendlies.
More burned out, bombed out houses. One house causes me to do a double-take. Sitting on the porch, under camouflage netting, is a tank, its heavy gun pointed down the road.
10:36 AM - Going through a very long, very dark tunnel. At the end of it a checkpoint. Once we're past it Bear says, "Now it's normal!" I think this means the HOS (the radicals, Ustasi) were in control of the area around Mostar that we've just left.
Beautiful countryside again. More hills, mountains in the distance. The river is back beside us. For a while it's green, then blue-green.
10:42 AM - We slow, then stop. Some civilian traffic passes, going the other way.
10:44 AM - We creep forward. Now I see why. There's a bridge down ahead of us. It's been fixed with a temporary wooden ramp that only allows for one lane of traffic. We go over, slowly. We're OK.
10:52 AM - Stop. A lot of traffic ahead. Other trucks seem to be crossing another bridge or a dam. Bear says this is the place where the road forks. People coming south who want to by-pass Mostar take this road off into the mountains. So that is where the Norwegian convoy later today will rejoin this highway.
10:55 AM - We pass through the intersection, no problem. The road moves higher into the mountains now. Beautiful.
11:06 AM - Another damaged bridge. I can see that what had been the center span was knocked out. Again repaired with a temporary fix, so the trucks cross very slowly. A boulder is in the road just ahead of us, creating a one-lane roadway leading to the bridge. Soldiers are here. Bear says, "I think the soldiers do that (referring to the boulder in the road) because they don't like us. They don't want the world to see that the people don't have enough to eat."
11:11 AM - As we slowly traverse the bridge I see that the repair is two metal "I" beams with a narrow concrete pad between them. Our friend the river flows by below, unconcerned.
11:15 AM - It’s slow going here, with mountains on either side, because the surface of the road has been damaged. For a while there’s only one lane. Now there has clearly been heavy damage to the road. The paved surface is entirely gone in some stretches, we roll along, slowly, on dirt. Back on paved surface there are very large, deep potholes. Mortar or artillery fire may have been concentrated here.
11:18 AM - Checkpoint ahead. A civilian car is stopped. Once it’s out of the way, we’re waved on through. We enter a village in a beautiful, green, near-Alpine valley. There are a number of wonderful small farms dotting the hillsides. More kids play with toy guns.
Moving up now. There’s a good deal of snow visible above us, in the higher elevations.
11:25 AM - We enter Jablonica (probably pronounced YA-BLAH-NEET-ZAH, if I’m getting this correctly), the largest town/city we’ve come through since Mostar. We pass an UNPROFOR base here, which is comforting to see. People on the street are making signs indicating that they want the food. I can’t yet figure out who is who, but some of the kids are throwing rocks at the trucks, so I guess these are not Muslims. Turning a corner near the city center, we’re blocked by a semi with a long trailer that, coming the other direction, couldn’t negotiate the 90 degree turn just ahead of us. As it pulls back and forth, we sit and wait. Phil is still in the truck behind us, but those ahead are pulling away in the distance. Hmmm. Now the truck is around and we’re clear to go ahead. Traffic. Kids running along beside the truck waving and smiling. No finger signs, so maybe these are Muslims. Seems to be a mixed community if that’s the case, because others sign that they want us to leave the food here. Groups of adults stand and stare impassively as we go by. It’s hard to read them.
11:34 AM - We’re through Jablonica and have sighted the convoy on the mountain road ahead. That feels better. The trees that cover the mountainside are fabulous, in full autumn array. The surface of the road is wet, perhaps with snow melt.
Suddenly a tanker truck comes around a corner, over the line, straight at us! On our right is a sheer drop but Bear has to put that side's wheels into the dirt to avoid a collision. It all happens too fast to even slow down, but somehow we manage to squeeze past without either side-swiping the tanker or ending up a few hundred feet down on the rocks below. God almighty! Bear, the master of understatement, looks over at me, smiles, says, “Was close.” It’s one of those lightning occurrences that make one think. And quake for a bit.
Another hillside village, more beautiful than the last. Incredibly green pasture, the trees bright browns, oranges, yellows. Alpine slopes.
We pass an old man on the road who is leading a horse laden with sacks of cabbages. It's from another time. It’s as though we leap-frog to the 18th century, then are roughly jerked back to today by the appearance of a tank or a group of soldiers with automatic weapons in hand.
All the farms are marked by a curious peaked haystack that looks as though all the hay is somehow attached to a pole in the center, giving it a conical shape. Interesting.
Bear says he’s hot, indicates he’s wearing long-johns under his jeans because he thought it would be colder. It’s cold enough for me.
As we climb the face of this mountain, the drop off at the side of the road is very dramatic. Why does it always seem to be on my side?
12:10 PM - Honks and waves as a UN convoy passes us heading south. Bear says these are the empty trucks from the trip that lost one of its number in Mostar.
Now the snow is beside us Patches still clinging to the ground. Up a bit higher there’s quite a good snow cover.
12:19 PM - Bear confers on the 2-way and tells me we may stop in about a half hour to eat. I’m surprised, having been told there would be no stops, even to pee. I’m also relieved, or will be in half an hour.
A beautiful orchard here looks as though it’s been sprinkled with powdered sugar. The view out the back window is magnificent! Looking down over the route we’ve traveled I can see dozens of red-tiled roofs, clumps of white-walled cottages, gorgeous trees, extraordinary green pastures, all laced with patches of snow.
Now I’m seeing, on rocks or on the occasional wall, the initials HDZ inscribed. Graffiti. (HDZ represents the Bosnian Croat political party headed here by Mate Boban, but controlled by Franjo Tudjman in Croatia.)
Clouds are coming in. Much snow ahead. The panorama below gets more amazing all the time.
12:30 PM - We’re stopping. Lunch! Added to this nice surprise is another one. We can take off the flak jackets. We're evidently out of the danger zone.
Phil and I compare notes. His driver speaks very good English. Has been around. When he can get him to stop talking about movies, he’s learned a lot. In response to Phil's asking him why he was here, the guy said he loved the excitement of it. He went on to say that on his last run a mortar round went off in the road about 10 meters behind him, to which Phil responded, "Now tell me why I'm here."
The restaurant, a kind of mountain rest stop, is full of cigarette smoke and offers nothing to eat that isn’t meat. Except bread. They do have a toilet though, thanks.
Phil and I sit with Nick and Paul, from Amnesty. Interesting conversation. Nick expresses some concern about a report on Bosnia-Hercegovina written by Human Rights Watch (an organization with which I’m involved). He asks to be put in touch with a responsible person in that office. I offer to try to arrange it. The concerns are primarily based upon some legal niceties in the area of human rights law with which I’m not at all well versed, but maybe I can be helpful in getting some clarity between the two groups.
Someone, either Nick or Paul, also suggests, I think, that there is a possibility that Hill and Knowlton, a U.S.-based public relations firm, might be “pimping for Bosnia.” The suggestion implies that there is a professional PR campaign being waged to move the US government, through the manipulation of public opinion, to the support of, presumably, Bosnian Muslims. This is something I’d like to know more about because Hill and Knowlton were real villains, in my view, in manipulating the US on behalf of the Kuwaitis up to, into and through the Persian Gulf War. The “baby/incubator” scam was their doing and it gave Bush all the emotional ammunition he could have wanted. A truly lousy act.
1:20 PM - On the road again. Down the mountain.
1:38 PM - As we come down the hill into a town, we see the first sign of Muslim culture: a minaret (the narrow tower common in the Muslim world from which the faithful are called to prayer at certain times of the day) rises toward the sky. We’re now in Bosnian Muslim territory and the kids on the roadside are thrilled to see us. Happy smiles and waves from all. Kids running out to meet us, waving, calling out. It’s very touching, bringing to mind the reception received by the liberating forces in WWII.
We’re in a valley farming community. Rustic. The road is pretty rustic, as well. Potholes, bumps. Bear says, “Not the best road.” We round a corner and it’s even worse. Dirt.
1:48 PM - We stop. There’s a problem with the road ahead. It’s being worked on. (Oh, Rosa, I just found out Bear’s last name is Nielsen.) We have another chance to stretch. The river flows along the left side here, and has undercut the road. The mountain face goes almost straight up on our right, so they’ve got to dig it out on one side, shore it up on the other.
2:01 PM - We’re moving again. Now it’s a narrow, single lane, very bumpy dirt road. Now it’s mud. (God, when the snows come, not to mention the snow melt, this will be impassable. And it’s the main highway.) Bear says the road will be this way for the next 12 kilometers.
Bear is doing a hell of a job!
2:48 PM - Finally back on pavement. I feel as though I’ve been through the wash and rinse cycles. Bear’s my hero. Slush, mud, hairpin turns, washboard surface, potholes a yard wide and a foot deep and no casualties. Amazing!
A car goes past us, swerving to miss the potholes and still get by the trucks. Bear says, “These people are crazy drivers.”
Down the highway we enter another beautiful valley, another wonderful village. The fields here are blanketed with snow. This place, on a hillside, is great. Looks like a village in the Italian countryside, but then there’s the minaret making its unique statement.
Sheep, a horse-drawn cart, more kids running to the roadside, waving. Bear says, “People (drivers) who come here for the money should go home.” Now hundreds of kids are lined up waving. It’s really extremely moving. Bear, smiling, “They say hello to us and smile when we come. It’s nice.”
3:27 PM - Many soldiers ahead at a main intersection. Bear says we’re nearly there. He points out local trucks going in the other direction loaded with food and supplies from the UNHCR warehouse, taking it to people in outlying areas. We’re inching forward now, toward the intersection. It’s actually a “T,” where a soldier is directing traffic one way or the other. Our trucks are turning right. Almost at the corner, just as we’re coming to a stop from one of our short creeps forward, there is a decided “thump” from the back of the truck. Bear and I look at each other, then back at our load. Nothing seems disturbed, nothing moved. What could have fallen? Shortly, after another sound just like it, it becomes clear that what we’re hearing is the sound of artillery rounds being fired at or landing in Travnik, the town just off to our left. Oh. Our turn comes and we pull up to and around the corner. To the right, thank you very much.
3:34 PM - Having turned off the main highway and into a lane, we stop just short of the gate to the warehouse yard. Bear turns off the engine and the mortar and/or artillery fire is much more evident. It's amazingly close. It seems as though you can almost the feel the concussion. The idea of being the target of such a powerful force suddenly becomes very real and very intimidating. Dismounting, we all gather at the gate to the UNHCR warehouse yard. Evidently there is a logjam. A recently arrived shipment will have to be cleared before our trucks can unload, so everything is on hold for a while.
Barbara can't find the UNHCR car that is supposed to be here for us, so, with the artillery barrage growing louder and more persistent in the background, we consider our options. There isn't room for all of us and our gear in Kim's jeep, so he'll take one of us to the hotel, unload the stuff and come back for the rest.
Nobody moves, so I hop in and we're off. Kim takes me down the highway toward the center of Vitez, talking most of the way about the lousy situation here and how proud he is of his group of drivers. In a few minutes we pull into a semi-circular drive in front of The Plaza, or whatever it is, the most modern hotel in town, only to be confronted by a group of soldiers who don't appear to want us there. Kim, undaunted, pulls to a stop and opens the door, saying something to the soldiers that seems to calm them. Before they have time to regroup and/or object again, we're pulling the bags out and stashing them on the steps and Kim jumps back in the jeep and heads out. Impressed and temporarily emboldened by Kim's attitude, I turn around from watching him leave and find myself facing this group of soldiers alone. Ah hah.
Lesson well learned, I hope, I walk up the stairs right through the five or six of them and in the front door. So far so good. A woman in a military uniform is seated at a table inside the door so I step up to her and smile. She looks at me briefly and then goes back to work on some papers on the desk. So far so good. Down the corridor is what appears to be a reception desk, so I try there, all the while hoping the bags are staying where I left them, and find a woman in civilian clothes, which is better.
After a bit of struggle trying to understand each other, we finally come to an agreement that she does in fact have four rooms available and I am taking them all. If Barbara and Stephanie want to stay together, as I think they might, Nick and Paul will take the extra. If not, Phil and I can double up. As she's doing the necessaries, I trot back to the door to find all our bags still there, thank God, and schlep them inside. Once back, a soldier approaches and tells me, in passable English, that the manager wants to be sure I understand that at 6:00 o'clock the electricity will be turned off. He says,
"Black-out at 6:00 PM. For sure!!"
Who am I to argue with a man carrying a machine gun? But just to be sure,
"All over town?"
"Everywhere! Black-out! 6:00 PM!"
The woman behind the desk is nodding, agreeing, so I shrug and say, "OK." Happy to have that understood, she hands over the four room keys. The soldier then adds,
"No go out!"
"You mean we can't go outside during the black-out?"
"No go out!"
"What about dinner? Is there a restaurant? Food?"
He nods, tells me that there is a place down the street, but insists we have to be back before 6:00. That doesn't give us much time, it occurs, but I indicate to him that I understand.
The hotel is evidently filled with soldiers. There's a door to an office off to the side of the reception desk which people in uniform keep going through. It's apparently being used as some sort of headquarters. A soldier wearing a bloody bandage comes out for a minute, confers, goes back in. Maybe it's an infirmary.
It's about 4:45 before Phil, Barbara and Stephanie show up. It being winter here night is already falling, so I explain the situation with the rooms, about the black-out and the apparent curfew. The artillery fire has been constant and now we're beginning to hear small arms fire as well. The idea of being in a town when it's over-run is not a thrilling one, but we really aren't in a position to do anything but hope for the best. Our rooms are on the third floor, but this being Europe that's four floors up, so we head for the stairs.
Barbara and Stephanie do want to share a room, so I parcel out keys and hang onto one for Nick and Paul, who have gone ahead to meet with Anders Levinsen, the UNHCR rep in Vitez we're supposed to meet later. The rooms are functional, with two narrow beds in each, a bathroom with toilet and running water. There isn't any hot water, but then there doesn't seem to be any heat of any kind, so where's the surprise? We've decided to get set up, then meet out in the hall to go over to Levinsen's office and see what we can arrange from there about some food.
Suddenly the lights go off and it's pretty much pitch dark, which is a little alarming since it's barely 5:00 PM and not yet time for the black-out. I dig out my flashlight and head out into the hall to find Phil, Barbara and Stephanie, as well as a couple of soldiers. Nothing seems amiss, at least from what we can hear. The shooting hasn't particularly intensified and doesn't seem to be noticeably closer, so we find some candles in a couple of the rooms, finish our setting up and head downstairs.
I'm very glad Barbara mentioned bringing a flashlight.
Making our way downstairs, the four of us begin to find just about everything funny. It probably makes perfect sense psychologically if you think about it, but none of us bothers. We just start making off-the-wall remarks about almost everything and cracking ourselves and each other up. At the desk I ask for a candle (my room came without) and am given a book of matches. After a brief pantomime show, the woman indicates that she doesn't have any more candles, but will try to dig one up somewhere.
Deciding that we'll act as if our understanding is that the curfew, if it exists, doesn't start until later despite the fact that the black-out came early, we head for the door. No one challenges us, so we make our way out and down the street toward the UNHCR office. It's very cold out. A few people are on the street and a couple of cars make their way slowly through the town, lights dimmed. Some of the buildings we pass have lights on in them, most have candles going. Sort of your casual black-out. It's an eerie feeling to walk through the streets of a strange town in a strange country with things mostly dark around you and the sound of gunfire as background music.
We pass a couple of bars that seem to be still doing business and see a couple of places that might be restaurants, but we press on, trying to find Anders Levinsen. Finally we get to the office and make our way up the stairs and through a door. It's fully lit in here. Anders is still in a meeting with Paul and Nick, so we're asked to wait.
No one in the office seems clear on whether there's a curfew. Nor does anyone seem to know whether restaurants will serve meals tonight. I guess we can make do with Phil's bread and what's left of the health food store stuff in the bags, but we'd all sure like a good hot meal tonight, so we decide to head back out. Paul and Nick come out, so I give them their key and Anders apologizes, saying things are piling up, wants to know if we can meet later. It's OK with us, so he sends us out to find a place a few blocks away which he thinks will still be serving dinner. It's called "Holiday," has a green neon sign over the door.
Back in the streets, we work our way around a few blocks and, sure enough, there's "Holiday." Lights are on so we walk in. The woman who greets us seems very nice, speaks no English. We convey to her the idea that we want to eat, if possible, so she goes to confer with her husband. In a bit they're back and among the six of us we're able to communicate enough to understand that it's OK with them if we'll agree to sit toward the back of the place so they can turn out the lights in front. Great!!
The woman, whose name I never get clear on, is a Serb. Her husband, Irudin (EYE-RU-DIN), is a Muslim. He's a very outgoing guy, insists on toasting us, America, friendship and generally finds a way with gestures and broken English to convey his point of view pretty well. As he's regaling us with stories of hunting and co-existence and calling for more dishes from the kitchen, she gets on the phone. We're happy as clams, eating good food to the accompaniment of Irudin's constant chatter (Phil, seated next to him, gets the diplomat of the year award for hanging in with him, working out what he's saying, exchanging stories) when a man comes in and is presented to us. It turns out Irudin's wife had called her father, who speaks some English, and asked him to come over, so this sweet man had come out into the night to be the go-between with the group of Americans.
It was a truly memorable night. Irudin's wife's father (whose name I obviously also didn't get) had worked in Iran in the 70s. Worked in construction. Bridges, I think. Fitting, if so.
Really nice people, they all seemed a bit baffled by the war in their country. Irudin kept insisting that they were living proof that co-existence was possible, the war was foolish. He'll drink to that. He's convinced the answer is we should all come back and go hunting with him. And he'll drink to that.
As we're wrapping up the evening, Anders finds us. We bid our goodbyes to our hosts and head off into the darkness. Anders' house is only a short walk from "Holiday," so we're there in no time. The sound of gunfire continues.
Anders, a big, handsome Scandinavian in about his middle 30s, has a nice place in what appears to be a modern, upper-middle class neighborhood. He strongly suggests that if we want to see the impact of the war we should be staying here with him in Vitez instead of going on to Sarajevo. He has, he says, been put in the position here of being the only man who can talk to all three sides, has negotiated successfully with all factions and is now in the position of being sought out as arbiter. With the fighting in Travnik and the problems pursuant to the refugees from Jajce now spilling over into Vitez, this is the place to be.
He makes a good case, obviously feels very strongly, but we've committed ourselves to going on, are expected in Sarajevo and, frankly, after reading as much as we have about it, want to see it for ourselves. The impression is clear that Anders is a bit put out by all the attention going to Sarajevo when so much is happening in other parts of the country. I don't think it's ego on his part so much as it is a desire for more awareness of the problems in this part of the country about which he cares so deeply.
As we're talking there is a knock at the door. One of the city's officials is there with his daughter for a meeting. Anders is embarrassed, having apparently forgotten about it, but we let him off the hook, make our apologies and head for the door. He's to give us a ride to Kiseljak in the morning, so we'll have more time to talk.
The walk back to the hotel is even eerier than before. For one thing, it's just the four of us again and we're new in town. For another, it sounds very much like the small arms fire has come a lot closer. We're quiet on the way back. Fewer laughs.
Once back in the hotel, the sense that the fighting is closer is underscored when a young soldier walks by with a bloody bandage on his head. Since there really isn't much of an option, we trudge up the stairs and head for our beds. It's a weird night. Cold.