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Bosnia: A Report From A Muslim Village

Omici, Bosnia; 10 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The residents of the small Muslim mountainside farm hamlet of Omici in central Bosnia watched the war pass by in the Pliva valley below, largely escaping the fate of other Muslim communities that came under Serb or Croat occupation.

Omici is also known as Gornje Dzumezlije, in contrast to the mainly Serb Donje Dzumezlije located a short way down the steep rutted dirt road that is Omici's only link to the outside world.

The village elder in Omici, Mehmet Omic, says that while the hamlet lost just one house to fighting in the course of the war, two Muslim homes and four Serbian homes in Donje Dzumezlije were torched.

Just two kilometers away at a key intersection, the village of Jezero, which until 1992 had a mix of Serb, Croat and Muslim inhabitants, experienced some of the worst destruction anywhere in Bosnia. All 58 houses in the center of the village were completely destroyed. A further 100 buildings were partially destroyed, including a clinic and a school. These two have since been repaired with assistance from the British Overseas Development Agency and the British IFOR base in nearby Mrkonicgrad.

The slogan, "This is Serbian land" is scrawled on the ruins of several buildings in Jezero. No Croats are left in the village and the only Muslims still remaining constitute less than ten percent of Jezero's prewar Muslim population.

Bosnian Serbs occupied this district until one year ago when a Croatian military offensive sent them fleeing northwards. But as a result of the Dayton agreement, the Bosnian Croat military withdrew eastwards. Omici found itself again under Bosnian Serb jurisdiction, in the demilitarized zone known as the interentity boundary line.

For the residents of Omici, the fragile peace established by the Dayton accord has brought neither stability nor removed the threat of ethnic cleansing.

The NATO-led implementation force (IFOR) maintains a small post in Omici of four British soldiers to ensure the safety of the residents. But Omic says that if IFOR goes, the Muslims will also have to leave.

"It is difficult, very difficult, but we will stay here this way as long as IFOR is here," Omic says, noting that Serbian neighbors wrongly blame the Muslims for war damage caused by Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat forces.

Omic, an unemployed tire repairman, says that early this year a Serbian neighbor from the next village stole "Brzulja," one of his three cows. He reported the theft to the Bosnian Serb police. But the police placed the cow in the care of the Serb pending a court decision, which has yet to be made.

A second dispute erupted last week, when a local Muslim boy took another cow into a field belonging to a relative who fled after his house had been burned down during the war. A Serbian farmer from Donje Dzumezlije came into the field and, shouting, "This is Serbian land!" chased the boy away. Omic complained to a visiting IFOR liaison officer, British Captain David Goddard.

Captain Goddard, assisted by an interpreter, describes the procedure for resolving the dispute.

"I see little sense in going between one complainant and the other and keep coming backwards and forwards, because that will get us nowhere. We need to come together and talk about it. So what I'll do, I'll get in touch with the I.P.T.F. and we'll organize a meeting between the two."

Captain Goddard notes that standard procedure in such cases is for the I.P.T.F., the U.N. international police task force, to get involved and try to ensure that local police act responsibly.

Omic says relations between the Muslims of Omici/Gornje Dzumezlije and the Serbs of Donje Dzumezlije were traditionally good even during the war. He says it was only after the Bosnian Croat military withdrawal early this year when the Serbs returning from temporary exile found several homes destroyed that they started to blame their Muslim neighbors rather than the Croat forces for the damage. Now, as Omic puts it, the Muslims have plenty of problems.

He notes that when his son-in-law or grandchildren who fled during the fighting now try to visit Omici, Bosnian Serb police in Donji Dzumezlije block their way. The police say the visitors must have permits to come. Omic says he has informed both IFOR and I.P.T.F. authorities, who insist no one should be denied freedom of movement. But he says the blockade continues.

Omic says the only international aid the village has received since the Dayton accords were signed has been a single delivery of flour and cooking oil brought in by IFOR. The villagers remain largely self sufficient. They have no electricity. There are no shops.

Omic's wife, Redzihaz, says she is hopeful about the general elections this Saturday.

"It means we should have peace and freedom and that everyone can return to their homes," she says. "There is no life as long as people cannot return home."

But in a reflection of the widespread lack of information about which political parties are fielding candidates and what their platforms are, Mrs. Omic says she does not know who she will vote for.

"I will vote for Bosnia, because we all live and want to live in a Bosnia in which all are together: Croat, Muslim, Serb. For us, there is no life without the others," Mrs. Omic says.