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Bosnia's Muslims Find No Country Will Rescue Them

By Roy Gutman
Newsday

TRNOPOLJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina

The outdoor privies overflow with human waste, and inside the cold and dirty elementary school building across the muddy schoolyard there is no running water. The refugees have only straw, cardboard and thin blankets to sleep on.

"Perfect conditions for an epidemic," commented Dr. Jack Geiger, a professor of community medicine at the City University of New York, on a visit last week.

But for 3,500 Muslims who pack the squalid former concentration camp, Trnopolje is the last hope of escaping from the bloodletting in northern Bosnia. That civilians would seek refuge at the place where witnesses say hundreds were murdered and raped by Serbs last summer testifies to their desperation.

They flocked here in hopes they might follow the 1,571 survivors of two death camps who were transported from Trnopolje to Croatia at the beginning of October. But coming here was a miscalculation. For today, there is no exit from Bosnia.

"The world really doesn't care. Nobody wants the Muslims," said an official of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "It is very reminiscent of World War II. Nobody wanted the Jews or even to make a fuss about `the Final Solution' because then they would have to take them in as refugees."

The Trnopolje refugees share the plight of the Bosnian nation, which, having been recognized by the United States and European nations last spring, now appears to have been abandoned to its fate.

After raising an outcry in August over atrocities in Serbian camps, Western nations will not open their doors even to survivors of the camps. As a result, the Swiss-based International Red Cross suspended plans to liberate Monday as many as 10,000 still being held.

With no certainty about rescuing the former detainees, aid officials have all but abandoned hope of doing anything soon for the expellees who crowd Trnopolje even though the officials agree they are refugees by any definition of the word. Instead, in a remarkable departure from their usual reserve, they say the humanitarian crisis in Bosnia is at the point where it can be solved only through the use of outside force.

"They have never seen suffering on this scale when no one seemed to care," said Geiger, who visited northern Bosnia with Tadeusz Mazowiecki, the U.N. special investigator on human rights.

Meanwhile, the Serbs, blamed by the international community for initiating the violence, exude confidence even as they step up the terror tactics that comprise "ethnic cleansing" against the 150,000 non-Serbs still living in northern Bosnia.

Radomir Kosic, a Banja Luka official who hosted Mazowiecki on his tour, caustically remarked to reporters accompanying Mazowiecki to Trnopolje last week that Muslim civilians came here "thinking they would have a free ticket to paradise."

Actually, the reasons were mundane. "Our houses have been destroyed and pillaged. My friends have been killed. We had to get out," Erna Muric, a 21-year-old woman from Prijedor, said. Others said that non-Serbs were no longer allowed to use public transportation for the seven-mile trip into Prijedor, although women are allowed to walk the distance in order to forage for food.

Others came because they were "cleansed" from homes they had built after years of working abroad. "I was an honest worker. I fed my family until I was forced out of my house," Hasan Dzonlagic, 29, said. "Now they (the Serbs) live in my house. They drive my car. All I have left is the head on my shoulders. But what use is that because I have nothing else?"

The camp director, Pero Curguz, confirmed that Serbs from the town of Bugojno in Croatian-controlled Bosnia had moved into Dzonlagic's house and those of other refugees here, including some from Trnopolje itself.

The school is too small to house all who seek refuge, and one group of about 180 are living in a barnlike building of about 18 by 25 feet. About 100 of them huddle in small family groups on the concrete ground floor and about 80 are in a loft. They have one primitive heater downstairs, and only blankets and cardboard on the ground floor and the upstairs floorboards to stop the draft. Rain drips through gaps in the tile roof, and there is no place for all to stretch out at night.

Many have passports with valid visas for West European countries, while others have invitations complete with written guarantees of support. But they have no way to leave.