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Miraculous Survival of Six Men

After Escape from Srebrenica
16-Year-Old Stuns Mother with Sudden Appearance
(SAHMERI, Bosnia-Herzegovina—AP) "Donít cry, my mother," the 16-year-old Muslim youth said as the two embraced, reunited nine months after the massacre at Srebrenica—a town that has come to symbolize the horror and suffering of Bosniaís war. Bekir Husejinovic was one of six men to emerge from hiding in the past few days, stunning relatives who had assumed them dead. "Is it the truth that my son is alive?" his mother, Zineta Husejinovic, cried. "I canít believe my son is in front of me."

MAP: Srebrenica The Muslim enclave fell to the Serbs in July, and thousands of men are believed to have been hunted down and slaughtered. Bekir and five other men arrived in government-controlled territory only Saturday, telling reporters and local TV stations that they survived for nine months by hiding in bunkers just a couple of miles from Srebrenica and eating corn kernels and potatoes.

Survived Slaughter of Some 7,000 Muslims
Their extraordinary story comes just as springís thaw is uncovering suspected mass grave sites. War crimes investigators are collecting evidence at several sites believed to hold the remains of hundreds of men who eyewitnesses said were marched away from Srebrenica and systematically executed. Most estimates are that the bodies of 7,000 men await discovery.

It was impossible to verify the accounts of the six men. Randolph Ryan, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said: "We have not interviewed them and have no knowledge of the case. If itís true, itís an amazing story."

A Western official who deals in Bosnian affairs said that although he had not interviewed the men, he had doubts about the accounts he has heard so far about how they survived. "One possibility is that they got some assistance from somebody along the way, possibly a Serb family, which helped them survive," said the source, "And they want to protect them. "The other possibility is that they came out some months ago and for some reason somebody didnít want to publicize their case until now, possibly for propaganda purposes," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

How They Survived
Three of the men interviewed by The Associated Press, including Bekir, Adnan Spahic, 20, and Muhamed Smajic, 26, gave essentially the same account:

  • After fleeing the Serbs, they kept themselves warm with wood stoves in their bunkers and with blankets. They managed to rig up a radio with an old 12-volt alternator they found, generating electricity to run it with a makeshift wooden spinning wheel propelled by a rope.

  • Over the radio, they learned of the Dayton peace agreement late last year. They decided then to return to Bosnian government territory, but they waited until the snow had melted and until the agreement had taken hold, establishing zones of separation and calling for freedom of movement.

  • Finally, about two weeks ago, they made their move from the hamlet of Lehovici near Srebrenica, about 45 miles southeast of Tuzla. They zigzagged to Tuzla in 11 days to reach government territory.

The 16-year-old Bekir seemed nervous and rarely smiled as he and Adnan told their stories, surrounded by family and friends. Regardless of whether their account was entirely true, the joy of their relatives appeared genuine.

"It was very sudden," said Bekirís 19-year-old sister, Ramiza. "No one expected him to come." Bekirís mother, two sisters and a brother were among the first wave of refugees allowed to leave Srebrenica after it fell. They eventually were resettled in an old, empty house in Sahmeri, about 20 miles north of Tuzla.

Separated from His Brother in Shelling
Older men were rounded up and marched off by the Serbs. Another brother, Ramiz, 18, is among the missing. Bekir said he and his brother were together but became separated when a shell hit nearby. "I called my brother to join me but he had gone in another direction," said Bekir.

Bekir showed reporters his hands and legs, which were covered with some kind of skin disease. A doctor who examined him said the condition could have been caused by frostbite, vitamin deficiency or infrequent bathing.

Bekir said he was frightened at first but later his fears diminished. He said he and the others changed bunkers several times just ahead of Serb patrols that discovered the old ones. "We saw many dead bodies during our attempts to escape," said Bekir.

Teen Almost Skeletal, Wounded by Shrapnel
Bekir said they passed the days just by talking. He also said he read frequently from a Koran he found in the forest. The men said they fasted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Adnan showed reporters a burlap bag still holding some corn kernels and salt. Dressed in a Nike jogging suit, Adnan appeared to be the thinnest of the three, almost skeletal. He said he had been wounded in the back by shell fragments.

He described how he and the others were nearly caught by the Serbs. "Once they were just behind us," he said. "They sent out patrols. We saw them 100 meters (yards) away."

Adnan said that even though the Dayton peace agreement was in effect last December, they stayed in hiding because it would have been very difficult to move in the snow without leaving tracks. When spring came, they felt the Serbs closing in and couldnít wait any longer.

"We heard dogs," he said. "There was no food around. The Serbs took everything they could. We only had two or three kilos (about four to six pounds) of corn left."

Additional resources
Serbs Massacre Muslims in "Safe Area" of Srebrenica
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia United Nations
Coalition for International Justice
Reports concerning human rights abuses in Bosnia Intac Access
Major War Criminals/Suspects CalTech's Bosnia Site
Reports on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia CalTech's Bosnia Site

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