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Investigators try to identify thousands killed during Bosnian civil war — July 27, 2001

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Macon Telegraph
July 27, 2001, Friday

KR-ACC-NO: K5952
LENGTH: 953 words
HEADLINE: International investigators try to identify thousands of people killed during civil war
BYLINE: By Drew Brown

TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina _ The remains of 4,420 people are stacked floor to ceiling in a refrigerated room a few blocks from this town’s central square.

Row upon row of white body bags fill stainless steel shelves in a morgue measuring 50 feet by 100 feet.

Across the hall, workers examine and catalogue clothing and other personal effects recovered with the bodies in a meticulous effort to put names and faces to the legions of dead still missing from Bosnia’s civil war.

The Missing Persons Institute in Tuzla is one of three such facilities in Bosnia. The 1992-95 conflict killed 200,000 people and left another 20,000 unaccounted for.

The nine-person staff of the Tuzla facility is charged with locating and identifying victims of the July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica. The incident was the single worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.

“We (estimate) 10,700 missing persons from the Srebrenica massacre,” said institute official Zlatan Sabanovic. “We expect that we are going to find between 7,000 to 8,000 bodies.”

No one knows for sure how many people died at Srebrenica. Estimates vary from 6,000 to more than 10,000 victims.

Srebrenica had been declared a “safe area” by U.N. officials earlier in the war. Muslim refugees packed the enclave when the Bosnian Serb army surrounded and moved against the outgunned Bosnian government defenders.

As the government army retreated through the mountains, the Serbs overwhelmed a small force of Dutch peacekeepers, who had been ordered by U.N. commanders not to fight. The Serbs took 32 Dutch troops hostage. The Serbs threatened to kill them if NATO warplanes struck the area.

On July 11, 1995, Serb gunmen gathered Muslim civilians at a battery factory and separated the men from the women. They took the men away, and later murdered nearly all of them. The Serbs expelled the women, more than 13,000 of whom ended up in a refugee camp at the Tuzla airport. The location is now Eagle Base, headquarters for the American peacekeeping sector in Bosnia.

Srebrenica was not an isolated incident. Paramilitary forces murdered tens of thousands of civilians, particularly in the Serb-held areas in the east.

Finding and identifying the Srebrenica dead, most of them old men and boys, has been especially difficult because the Serbs dug up the bodies and buried them in scores of secret locations.

So far, officials have found about a dozen secondary mass graves. Institute officials announced June 11 that they have opened investigations at a dozen other sites in eastern Bosnia.

“We expect to find another 1,200 bodies” at those sites, Sabanovic said.

A government official in Sarajevo announced July 8 that forensics experts have uncovered more than 100 sets of remains from several of the new locations.

Only 1,850 of the 4,420 sets of remains in the Tuzla morgue are complete skeletons. Many body bags contain just a few bones. DNA testing has identified only 118 victims so far. Another 73 results are pending, according to Sabanovic.

The process is painstaking. DNA analysis for a single case can take up to six months.

“The International Committee on Missing Persons expects that DNA testing will take around seven years,” Sabanovic said. “Right now, our family outreach program has collected 10,000 blood samples from relatives.”

The identification process also involves a lot of guesswork. Forensics experts try to match clothing and other articles with the remains as best they can. But the bones of several victims often are mixed together, Sabanovic said.

The institute assigns a number to every item and piece of clothing, corresponding to the remains with which they were found. Workers clean these items, photograph them and place them in cold storage with the body bags.

Sabanovic leafed through a catalogue that contained snapshots of clothing and personal effects, with an identification number and a short description listed below each image.

“We have to do this because we don’t have identification cards or other documents with the bodies,” Sabanovic said. “We have to have something with which to start. If someone recognizes something in these books, then we can open a case.”

Last month, about 354 cases were under investigation.

Sabanovic slowly turned the pages. A musty odor pervaded the building. The only sound was the hum of the refrigeration unit in the morgue.

Here was all that was left to identify the dead: a set of striped, tattered underwear. A dirty pair of athletic socks. A denim shirt spotted with dark stains. A cigarette holder. A pair of rubber galoshes. A rotten pair of canvas boots. A patch of blue cloth. Most of them belonged to different victims.

A green shirt lay on the floor, waiting to be photographed. The short sleeves were frayed and rotting. Blood stained the front of the shirt.

Victims’ relatives held a ceremony at Srebrenica on July 11 to mark the massacre’s sixth anniversary. About 5,000 Muslims, most of them women, placed a memorial for their sons and husbands.

A three-ton granite marker sits in a cornfield with the inscription “Srebrenica, July 1995.” Plans call for eventual burial of massacre victims at the site, about 45 miles northeast of Sarajevo.

Srebrenica is in the Serb-held territory known as the Republic of Srpska.

About 2,000 Bosnian Serb police and several hundred U.S. peacekeepers provided security for the event.

Meanwhile, the search for the dead continues. Sabanovic says the work often overwhelms him.

“But it’s easier to work at this facility than it is with the families,” he said. “That can be a very tough job.”

(c) 2001, The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.).


Bosnia’s future could hinge on U.S. commitment — July 25, 2001

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Macon Telegraph
July 25, 2001, Wednesday

KR-ACC-NO: K5330
LENGTH: 1698 words
HEADLINE: Bosnia’s future could hinge on U.S. commitment
BYLINE: By Drew Brown
SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina _ The United States is, in the words of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “the indispensable nation.”

Albright made the remark three years ago, as leaders in Washington debated whether to launch air strikes to force Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. weapons inspectors.

But nowhere in the world, perhaps, is the validity of Albright’s statement more apparent than in this mountainous land of 4 million people, struggling to recover from the worst of five civil wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Bosnia’s future hinges on a number of factors: Economic investment, the arrest of war criminals, and the commitment of the NATO-led Stabilization Force, or SFOR, to see the country through to lasting peace. The United States is by far the most crucial player in SFOR. “The presence of U.S. troops is what makes SFOR strong,” said Alija Behram, general manager of Radio Television Mostar. “Their presence is what gives strength to the liberal forces who want to build and maintain peace.”

About 18,000 troops from 33 nations serve in SFOR, down from 60,000 in December 1995, when the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the Bosnian civil war. The 3,200 American soldiers in Bosnia have a reputation as the most professional and effective peacekeepers in the country. The 1,200 soldiers of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade make up more than a third of the U.S. force.

“The important thing is not how many Americans are here,” said Avis Benes, a spokeswoman for High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, the international community’s top official in Bosnia. “The important thing is that the Americans are here. They lend credibility to the peace process. What is important is that the Americans are involved, because when push comes to shove, the Americans are the only ones who get things done.”

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced in May that the military mission in Bosnia was over and U.S. troops should be pulled out. The remark sent jitters through the country.

An American withdrawal could shatter SFOR and lead to renewed war, some observers fear.

“Anyone will tell you that if SFOR leaves, then who knows what will happen,” said a Western diplomatic source in Sarajevo who asked not to be identified. “There are still plenty of guns around.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell later reassured Washington’s NATO allies that American troops would stay in the Balkans “for years,” though at lower levels.

“You can continue to reduce the troop levels, but it will be some time before those countries are free-standing, on their own, and able to handle their own affairs,” Powell told NATO foreign ministers.

Current plans call for American troop strength in Bosnia to drop to 2,800 in October when the 48th Brigade returns home. U.S. military officials have mapped out Army troop assignments in Bosnia through at least 2005.

Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller says fears that the United States will withdraw unilaterally are overblown. “Bosnians know that we are not going to be here forever,” Miller said.

“But … we’re not going to cut and run. We’re not out of here tomorrow.”

Withdrawal has its supporters outside the Bush administration.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., who voted to send troops to Bosnia, says he has “real concerns” about the mission expanding and supports Bush’s efforts to reduce the U.S. presence.

“I supported the initial year-long commitment, but I wasn’t signing up for what has grown into a six-year engagement, with additional troops in Kosovo and Macedonia,” Cleland said.

Miller and other Western diplomats say their focus is to encourage local authorities to take “ownership” of the peace process.

“Increasingly, this is about Bosnians taking control and responsibility,” Miller said. “We’re not quite at the stage where they can do it all on their own. They do need help, but it’s increasingly about a partnership where we support them rather than order them around.”

Bosnia needs economic investment if peace is to last, most domestic and international observers say.

International donors have poured about $6 billion into Bosnia to rebuild infrastructure destroyed during the war. Bosnia remains largely dependent on foreign aid, but the money is beginning to dry up. Unemployment hovers around 40 percent.

“We need to create jobs. We need to create a modern economy,” the diplomatic source said. “And we need to make a real attempt to build an open political system free of nationalist parties. But more than anything else, we need economic development. That will make peace in Bosnia sustainable.”

But the stable environment required for economic investment remains impossible as long as extremists continue to sow discord and hate.

The 1992-95 Bosnian civil war was the most savage conflict in Europe since World War II. More than 200,000 people died after ethnic warfare erupted among Serbs, Muslims and Croats, the country’s three main ethnic groups. The conflict was the worst of the five civil wars spawned by then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s attempt to carve a “Greater Serbia” from the six republics of the former Yugoslavia.

U.S. peacekeepers have served in the country since 1995. Moderate political parties won the Bosnian Federation presidency and a majority of the parliament for the first time last fall. Many observers consider the election the most significant advance in years to a lasting peace.

Still, sporadic unrest continues.

In recent months, for example, Bosnian Serbs in several towns have rioted as Muslims tried to rebuild mosques destroyed in the war. About half the Croat troops in the Federation army deserted their posts for about 45 days, after Croat nationalists pulled out of the coalition government.

Arresting war criminals who remain at large would be the quickest step toward weakening the nationalists and ensuring the long-term stability that will enable an American withdrawal, some Bosnian and international officials say.

“If we really want peace and the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, then (Radovan) Karadzic and (Ratko) Mladic must be arrested,” said Mirza Hajric, an adviser to the three-man Bosnian presidency. “The sooner, the better.”

Karadzic is the former president of the Bosnian Serb entity known as the Republic of Srpska, which controls 49 percent of Bosnia. Mladic was his military commander. Both have been charged with genocide and other crimes against humanity.

With Milosevic now awaiting trial in The Hague, Netherlands, expectations are high in Bosnia that Karadzic and Mladic will soon be arrested.

Milosevic fell from power in October. Serbian authorities extradited him this month. He faces charges stemming from the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict, and prosecutors likely will indict him for incidents in Bosnia and Croatia. One hundred people have been charged by The Hague for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. About 37 remain at large.

But who has responsibility for arresting Karadzic and Mladic?

“SFOR will tell you that they will arrest them if they come across them in the course of their patrols,” said the Western diplomatic source. “This puts the onus on local authorities to make the arrests, but the local authorities, especially in the (Republic of Srpska), have been slow to cooperate. Unofficially, there is a sense that SFOR doesn’t want to take the risk of a confrontation or, heaven forbid, send someone home in a body bag.”

Miller, the outgoing ambassador, dismisses criticism that the United States and its allies are not doing enough to bring the indicted to justice.

The U.S. government has offered a $5 million bounty each for information leading to the arrests of Karadzic and Mladic. The issue remains “an extremely high priority,” Miller said.

“I can’t get into operational details. I can just tell you that there’s a lot of information out there by people who don’t know what they are talking about,” he said. “War criminals are like the weather. Everybody’s got an opinion on them, but no one knows a lot about it.”

Some American military officers, however, address the question more bluntly.

“That’s not our mission,” said Maj. Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the American military task force at Eagle Base.

Some lower-ranking U.S. troops confirm that they have been warned to steer clear of confrontation.

“In fact,” said one soldier who asked not to be identified, “we’ve been told that even if we see them, do not try to apprehend them.”

Many Bosnians, particularly Muslims, wonder how peace can be achieved as long as war criminals go unpunished.

“How would you feel about returning home if you knew that the person who expelled you or murdered your family was still in power or living next door?” said Emir Suljagic, a journalist with Dani, Bosnia’s largest news magazine.

During the war, Suljagic worked as an interpreter for Dutch peacekeepers at Srebrenica and was guaranteed safe passage as a “protected person” when the Dutch pulled out under U.N. orders before the 1995 massacre there. His younger brother is missing and presumed dead.

During a July 10 visit to Washington, Bosnia’s foreign minister pledged a renewed effort to apprehend Karadzic and Mladic.

Zlato Lagumdzija admitted that Bosnian police had not done enough in the past and vowed that Bosnia “would not become the last country in the region to be the shelter for war criminals.”

But some doubt that Bosnia is strong enough now to go it alone.

“We still need SFOR to help get rid of these guys,” Suljagic said.

Hajric, the Bosnian presidential adviser, compared his country to someone who has suffered a terrible car crash.

“For a long period of time, Bosnia was in bed,” he said. “Right now, Bosnia is on crutches, but basically it’s on its way to a safe recovery. If you take away the crutches, Bosnia will go back to bed. … But don’t give up on Bosnia. Bosnia is a safe bet.”

Life at Eagle Base: 48th Brigade tries to maintain normalcy at camp — July 24, 2001

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Macon Telegraph
July 24, 2001, Tuesday

LENGTH: 1970 words
BYLINE: By Drew Brown, Telegraph Staff Writer
Twenty-foot chain link fences and rolls of concertina wire separate Georgia peacekeepers from the people they are here to safeguard.

Outside Eagle Base is a land of bombed-out villages and dwellings still pockmarked with bullet holes from the 1992-95 civil war.

Inside is a tidy world of smooth streets and manicured lawns where soldiers must carry guns wherever they go.

This sprawling headquarters for U.S. troops in Bosnia is an oasis of safety in a region recovering from chaos. Life for the 1,200 troops of the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade revolves around one imperative: No one gets hurt. As an American officer put it during a visit last month by reporters: “There is nothing worth an American soldier dying for over here.”

Most U.S. soldiers in Bosnia see little of the country they came to protect, because troop safety is the cardinal rule for senior military officials.

Eagle Base is in many ways like the perfect little American town. There are cappuccino bars, Internet cafes, movie theaters, 24-hour fitness centers, and dining halls serving up all the food you can eat.

“We try to keep a sense of normalcy around here as much as possible,” said Lt. Col. Larry McClendon of Macon, commander of the 148th Logistics Task Force at nearby Camp Comanche.

Most troops rarely leave base camps. For some Georgia soldiers, halfway through a six-month peacekeeping stint, the restrictions are stifling.

“It’s like we’re prisoners here,” said Spc. Latisha Gray, a medic with the Macon-based detachment known as “Charlie Med.”

Gray sat on a bench outside Comanche’s medical clinic on a recent Saturday afternoon. Another medic, Spc. Gery Pollock of Pulaski County, nodded in agreement.

“You can walk up to the gate, look out, put your head down and walk back,” he said.

American soldiers have been in Bosnia as part of the NATO-led Stabilization Force since December 1995, when the Dayton Peace Agreement ended 3 1/2 years of war among Serbs, Muslims and Croats, the country’s primary ethnic groups.

‘Complacency Kills’

While most American soldiers remain sealed off behind barbed wire, troops from other SFOR countries stroll around Sarajevo, Mostar and Tuzla, often unarmed, as if they are tourists on vacation.

By contrast, American troops must carry weapons nearly everywhere, even in camp. The streets of Eagle Base are full of soldiers with M-16 rifles slung across their backs or 9mm pistols in dangling shoulder holsters.

Weapons are supposed to be kept unloaded, except when soldiers venture outside on patrol.

One of the most common sounds at Eagle Base and other camps is the crack of rifle and pistol bolts as soldiers ensure their weapons are empty before entering any building.

Signs at every gun-clearing station warn: PAY ATTENTION! COMPLACENCY KILLS! The last group of American peacekeepers in Bosnia suffered three accidental shootings, one fatal.

Though no American troops have been killed by hostile fire in Bosnia, U.S. military leaders consider the country dangerous. Troop safety, or “force protection” as they call it, remains paramount in senior officers’ minds.

“You’ve got to realize that we’re in a foreign land, and we’re not liked by everyone here,” McClendon said.

McClendon and other officers cite more dangers. One million land mines lie hidden across the country along the former front lines. AK-47 rifles, grenades and other weapons are easy to get.

Before its collapse, Yugoslavia’s defense strategy consisted of arming the populace if an invasion ever occurred. Senior American officers estimate there are 15 automatic rifles left in Bosnia for every one of the 8,500 soldiers in the Muslim-Croat and Bosnian Serb armies.

But American officers describe the former combatants as the “most compliant element” in Bosnia. Rock-throwing crowds are the biggest threat U.S. troops face now, but even those encounters are rare.

“I think the reason we haven’t had any incidents with our soldiers is because everyone knows that Americans are well-armed and are better armed than they are,” said Brig. Gen. Robeley Rigdon, 48th Brigade commander.

Six years after the war, the march to peace in Bosnia has hit several roadblocks. There have been riots in Bosnian Serb areas when Muslims returned to rebuild mosques destroyed in the war. A push for a separate ethnic homeland by Croat nationalists led to a six-week mutiny in the Muslim-Croat army. SFOR troops and auditors attempting to seize bank records in April encountered mob violence in Mostar and other towns.

“Stable, but slow,” is a phrase many Western officials use to describe the progress of peace.

Recent outbreaks of violence remain isolated incidents, they say.

“These are aberrations,” said outgoing U.S. Ambassador Thomas Miller.

“They are, in part, products of the atmosphere of hate. But secondly, they are functions of the hard-line nationalist parties who are losing power.”

Fighting boredom in camp

Keeping the peace can be a boring business, soldiers acknowledge.

“It’s a very set routine we get into here,” said Capt. Kerry Ochs of Warner Robins, who is stationed at Comanche.

“That’s why we try to do things like sports — to keep their minds off home.”

Another officer, who asked not to be identified, was more blunt in his assessment.

“Honestly, a lot of the tasks the soldiers do on a daily basis are just to give them something to do,” he said. “And to take their minds off the fact that they are going to be here awhile.”

Sports injuries keep the medics of Charlie Med hopping. They also have treated three heart attacks, none fatal.

“It’s been a good experience,” said Sgt. David McCarey of Lizella, one of two nurses assigned to the detachment. “We’re doing what we were trained to do.”

Movies are another popular diversion. During last month’s visit, Steven Spielberg’s World War II blockbuster “Saving Private Ryan” was followed by Mel Gibson’s Revolutionary War epic “The Patriot.” The 1970 George C. Scott biopic “Patton” played at The Balkan Grille, one of two dining facilities at Eagle.

Regular Army troops with the 3rd Infantry Division at Camp McGovern, about 15 minutes away by Blackhawk helicopter, watched Tom Berenger’s action flick “Sniper.”

The mess halls at Eagle, McGovern and elsewhere would put most civilian cafeterias back home to shame. Sunday cookouts feature grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, ribs and chicken.

The coolers are stocked with soft-drinks, juice and non-alcoholic beer. There’s even a Burger King and Baskin-Robbins next to the Balkan Grille for soldiers who get tired of Army chow.

Juice and cappuccino bars offer places to unwind in the evenings. At the Internet cafes, troops can surf the Web for free and keep in touch with their loved ones through e-mail and streaming video. Post exchanges at each camp offer a place to spend the extra $110 a month American soldiers earn in Bosnia for hazardous duty pay.

Academic types can earn a few college credits in their spare time. Four universities offer correspondence courses for soldiers in Bosnia.

Those who are interested can study Serbo-Croatian and learn about the country in which they are serving. But few exercise the option. Only eight soldiers at Camp McGovern signed up this semester.

Maybe that’s because the only locals most American soldiers ever talk to are those who work at the camps. Most of them already speak English. About 600 Bosnian civilians work at Eagle Base alone.

The jobs are some of the best in Bosnia. Interpreters make the most money, as much as $1,000 a month, about five times the average salary in Bosnia.

In a sign of how times have changed for the Army, soldiers can take courses in personal development. Topics range from “Speaking Up for Yourself in Today’s Military” to “Effective Coping Through the Buddy System.”

Placards at Eagle’s mess hall warn soldiers how to prevent suicide and recognize the dangers of “combat stress.”

“They try to make it as nice as they can for us,” said Spc. Michael Hutchinson, a medic from Macon. “They try so much to keep up morale. It’s kind of hard when you have limited personnel and someone has to go out and pull guard duty or something.

“But they’re doing the best they can to make us happy.”

Limited contact with residents

Except for those few on patrol, most American soldiers rarely mix with the local population, and then only under supervised conditions.

But senior American officers say they want to give troops a taste of the local culture, and describe occasional shopping trips to Dubrave, a village outside Eagle, or nights out in Tuzla, about 45 minutes away by bus. Excursions to Sarajevo occur about once a month, where soldiers get a chance to tour the city and eat dinner in a restaurant.

Many soldiers say what they find outside the wire is not what they expect.

“They’re very friendly,” said 1st Lt. Jason Smith of Atlanta, describing the local population, which is primarily Muslim.

“I’ve been to Serb and Croat areas where they’re nowhere near as friendly. It’s not that they’re hostile to us, but they don’t go out of their way to be friendly to us either.”

Even so, most troops would love to get outside more often.

“Any guy here will tell you that,” Smith said.

“That’s the one thing we really don’t understand,” McCarey said. “Why we’re still locked down, why we don’t have open gates.”

But some troops find ways to cross cultural barriers.

Sgt. Ken Blackstone of Hawkinsville and Spc. Willie Glover of Augusta spend their days manning a watch tower that overlooks Dubrave.

“Glover here has become sort of a diplomat,” Blackstone said. “He’s gotten quite friendly with this guy who lives over there. The guy will come by, and they’ll just talk for hours.”

Glover said the conversations are about everyday occurrences.

“We’ll basically talk about how his mother is doing,” Glover said. “He tells me everything that is going on in the neighborhood and how peaceful it is, and how thankful he is that the Americans are here.”

And despite the long, idle hours, many soldiers say hearing those sentiments makes all the difference.

“It doesn’t seem like you’re accomplishing much until you look at the bigger picture,” said Spc. John Davis of Milledgeville, as he sat at another isolated post.

“You know, you hear stories about what happened during the war and how bad it was. If me doing this little part helps, then I’ll gladly give up six months of my life to do it.”

Georgia’s 48th Brigade helps ensure safe return of refugees — July 22, 2001

Copyright 2001 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
The Macon Telegraph
July 22, 2001, Sunday

KR-ACC-NO: K5617
LENGTH: 2251 words
HEADLINE: Georgia’s 48th Brigade helps ensure safe return of Bosnian refugees
BYLINE: By Drew Brown

KULAGRAD, Bosnia-Herzegovina _ Staff Sgt. James Ross and his six-man squad watched as two Muslims hauled rubble from the ruins of a house in this hillside village.

Hadzic Siban, 45, shoveled debris into a cart. His nephew Zekereja Siban pushed each load up a gangplank and dumped it into a battered pickup truck.

“I don’t see how they do it,” said Ross, a lanky 33-year-old trooper with the Georgia Army National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade. “If it was me, I don’t think I could do it. “There are people here who would slit their throats in a minute if they could. It takes a brave person to return to something like this.”

A victim of “ethnic cleansing,” Hadzic Siban fled the area with his Muslim neighbors when Serb paramilitary forces stormed the village in a campaign of murder and terror that sparked the 1992-95 Bosnian civil war. The Serbs destroyed Siban’s home, along with most Muslim dwellings in the area.

The intent of ethnic cleansing is that victims will stay away if they have nothing to return to.

But now, everywhere around these lush hills, new homes are under construction as former residents return to rebuild their lives.

“I feel safe now,” Hadzic Siban said through an interpreter. “Besides, where else can I go? This is my home.”

Halfway into a six-month peacekeeping stint in Bosnia, Ross and his fellow soldiers are the reason Siban and his neighbors have come back. Because of the soldiers’ daily patrols in recent months, Siban said, mwe’re dealing with now are the hard returns, where we have to evict someone in order to establish the safe environment to which refugees can return home.”

Such tasks often are daunting for soldiers like Ross, a Macon resident who served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

“This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’m a war fighter, not a peacekeeper, so this is hard for me.”

A Sunday morning last month started like any other as Ross led a two-vehicle patrol from Camp Comanche, one of three main bases where U.S. troops are stationed.

Within 20 minutes of leaving Comanche, Ross’s squad encountered a crowd that had set up a roadblock to prevent traffic from moving through its neighborhood.

The Americans were dismantling nearby Camp Dobol as part of a gradual reduction of U.S. forces. Traffic to and from Dobol had been routed for weeks onto a gravel road that ran through a small cluster of houses.

White dust blanketed fields and homes alongside the road. A hand-lettered sign at the barricade declared in Serbo-Croatian: “We want to breathe clean air!”

The soldiers drove their Humvees past a long line of trucks and cars that had begun to back up in front of the barricade. Spc. Elysha Wood of Lawrenceville watched calmly from his gun turret.

“It looks like they’re blocking the road because of the dust,” Wood said.

The roadblock posed a problem for Ross and his squad. The Dayton agreement guarantees freedom of movement throughout the Federation and the Republic of Srpska. About 50 people milled about the barricade under the blazing sun.

Ross told his driver, Cpl. Ted Yrizzary of Atlanta, to ease the Humvee forward. Ross called in a report on his radio, then got out of the vehicle to investigate. Yrizzary joined him a few minutes later, an M-16 rifle slung over his shoulder.

A thin, middle-aged man, Ramiz Jajcevic, stood in the road. He pointed at his wife and two young children standing at a nearby fence.

“These are my children,” Jajcevic told Ross through an interpreter. “All of this dust goes down in their lungs and makes it difficult for them to breathe. It is not healthy for them.”

Ross replied that the Dayton accord left him no choice but to open the road.

“I live on a dirt road,” Ross told Jajcevic. “So I understand your concerns. The U.S. government has promised me for years that they would pave my road, but it hasn’t been done. That still doesn’t give me the right to block my road.

“Now, I am a soldier, and I have a duty, which is to open this road. Will you open this road?”

Jajcevic said residents were tired of the dust and would not move until SFOR fixed the problem.

Ross said he had no authority to make that decision.

“Then I have a solution,” Jajcevic said. “Call someone out here who can make a decision.”

The crowd gathered to hear the exchange. The line of vehicles stretched into the distance.

Ross spoke calmly but firmly, never breaking eye contact.

“We’ve got to clear this road,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. We’ve got to maintain freedom of movement.”

A man stepped up and identified himself as the local police chief. He and other police officers sympathized with the residents and would not force them to remove the roadblock. A group of local policemen and Finnish observers watched from nearby.

Ross paused for a moment, then spoke to the police chief. The Finnish soldiers moved in quietly to listen.

“Look, I’m not a politician,” he said. “I’m just a soldier trying to do a job, and these people are hindering me from doing my job. I understand his complaints, but I’ve got a job to do. Please help me do it.”

The discussion continued for several minutes. Finally, they compromised. Ross promised to have his battalion commander meet with Jajcevic and the police chief if they would remove the roadblock immediately.

The chief said he did not want a confrontation. Ross handed the chief his commander’s phone number and promised that the officer would call later to arrange a meeting.

“I’m trying to do the diplomatic thing,” he said. “But I’m just a soldier on the ground.”

The police chief ordered the roadblock removed, but warned he could not prevent further trouble.

“Please understand,” he said. “We may do this again.”

Everyone shook hands. Traffic flowed. A few people honked and waved.

Ross’s squad gave Coca-Colas, egg biscuits and bananas to Jajcevic and his family. They accepted the gifts graciously. The police chief offered cigarettes all around. Most adults in Bosnia smoke.

“These people have a gripe and a grievance,” Yrizzary said. “You can’t blame them. But the bottom line is, come on, you gotta act like people.”

Ross described the situation as the most difficult he has faced so far in Bosnia.

“We could’ve cleared this road. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “But we’re here to keep the peace, not start another war.

“I was prepared to stand there and talk until I was blue in the face and he was blue in the face, if that’s what it took. Now, everyone is going away happy with what they want.”

The patrol continued on and stopped at a sprawling, open-air market dubbed “Virginia” by SFOR troops. The market straddles the border between the Federation and the Republic of Srpska.

There are several border markets in Bosnia along the former front lines. When the fighting ended, SFOR encouraged the establishment of markets as a sort of safe zone, where people separated by the war could meet old friends, neighbors and family.

The markets have since evolved into some of the largest open-air bazaars in southern Europe. It is not uncommon, according to American troops, to see customers from many neighboring countries and even as far away as Germany. The markets bear the names of U.S. states.

Ross and his squad stroll through the market occasionally, always armed, as much to establish a presence as to check out the local merchandise.

On this Sunday, fruit and vegetable stands were crammed alongside kitchen appliances, furniture, clothing, compact discs and porn tapes. A woman under a roadside umbrella cooked cevapcici, a grilled sausage that is the national dish.

Out on the road, gleaming new BMWs jostled for position with horse-drawn wagons and fuel trucks. Rap music mingled with the vaguely Middle Eastern strains of traditional Bosnian songs.

“They only do this on Sunday,” Ross said. “By noon, it will all be gone.”

Some people waved to the soldiers. Others glared. A few people shouted hello. Others muttered insults. After all, Ross and his squad were now on the border with the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republic of Srpska, where they are just as likely to get the middle finger as a smile.

Many Serbs distrust the Americans, the soldiers said, because they believe America blames their entire ethnic group for starting the war.

Most historical accounts of the war blame it on former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and other Serb nationalists who wanted to carve a “Greater Serbia” out of the six republics of the former Yugoslavia.

Two million Serbs were living outside of Serbia when Yugoslavia fell apart in 1990. When Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1992, its government sought to create a multi-ethnic society where Muslims, Croats and Serbs shared equal rights.

But when Bosnian Serb nationalists, under the control of Radovan Karadzic, took up arms against the government, Milosevic provided them with weapons and direct military support. Serb paramilitary groups seized half of the country, killing or driving Muslims and Croats from most areas. The process became known as ethnic cleansing.

Croat nationalists in western Bosnia carried out a similar war against Muslims and Serbs until signing a pact with the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government in 1994. The Dayton Peace Agreement ended the fighting.

Ross and his squad stopped for lunch in Zvornik, a town on the Drina River across the border from Serbia. The village of Kulagrad lies in the hills above Zvornik.

Much of the Drina Valley was Muslim before the war, but now the region belongs to Bosnian Serbs who displaced them during the war.

Some people waved at the Americans. Most were indifferent. A young boy ran out and slapped Ross a high-five as the patrol passed.

Ross and his squad acknowledged they really do not understand the Bosnian conflict and just wish they were back in Georgia.

Ross said he missed his girlfriend, Christy Richardson of Milledgeville. They plan to marry as soon as he returns.

“I know I got a job to do,” he said. “But I’m really ready to go home.”

On the way back to camp, the patrol stopped at a mass grave site near the village of Sapna.

About 300 bodies were exhumed at the site last summer and buried in proper graves with markers. The names and dates on the wooden markers identified them as young and old, men and women. All were Muslim, victims of mass murder. Their resting place lay unmarked for years.

Each side committed atrocities during the war. A war crimes tribunal was established at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1993 to prosecute the crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia.

The tribunal has indicted 100 people so far. About 25 remain at large, including Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, his military commander. They are wanted in part for the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, where as many as 10,700 Muslims were murdered.

About a third of the graves near Sapna bear only a number. Those are the dead who will never be identified.

Ross walked slowly past the rows of the dead.

The clay atop each grave was baked hard by the sun. Weeds sprouted from cracks. A rusting spade lay on a mound of earth in front of one marker.

“If it were up to me, I’d indict every one of them,” he said, referring to the killers.

“I wish my mother could see this,” he continued. “Then she might understand why I am here. When people ask why I’m here, it’s to stop things like this from happening again.”

Ross paused and looked at the distant hills.

“This was not war,” he said. “This was just slaughter. This was not combat. This was just murder.”

Remains of Sailor Killed in Vietnam to be Returned after 33 Years — June 8, 2001

Remains of Sailor Killed in Vietnam to be Returned after 33 Years

June 8, 2001
Drew Brown
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WARNER ROBINS, Ga.–Joe Young and Jan Young Tadeo recall with striking clarity the day 33 years ago when the tall, young naval officers came striding across the yard.

They were 10 and 12 at the time, playing with a few other children at a back yard fish fry when they spotted the sailors walking toward them with their mother.

Joe and Jan began to run towards the men. One of them, they were certain, was their older brother Tony, a 23-year-old sailor who had shipped off to Vietnam the year before.

“I went into a panic when I realized it wasn’t him,” Joe recalled, tears welling at the memory. “My mother just collapsed. The naval officer had told her that our brother was MIA (missing in action) and presumed dead.”

The rest of that summer, Jan remembers, passed “in a state of shock.”

The family’s grief was compounded by the fact that there was no one to bury. PCF-19, the patrol craft or “swift boat” on which Tony Chandler served, had been sunk off the coast of Vietnam. His body was not recovered.

For more than three decades, each member of the Young family has carried this silent burden.

“Not knowing,” Jan said, “has got to be the most absolute worst thing in the world.”

Now perhaps the family will find a measure of the peace that has eluded them for so long.

Earlier this year, a military forensic team identified a bone fragment unearthed nearly a decade ago as Anthony G. Chandler’s remains. The family received notice a month ago of the news. They plan to hold a burial service at Centerville (Ga.) City Cemetery on June 16, the 33rd anniversary of Chandler’s death

“There’s a certain amount of dread going through all of us right now,” Jan said. “But there’s also a sense of peace knowing there’s finally a resolution.”

Four other men were killed in the 1968 incident. One of them was lost at sea and is still listed as missing. There were two survivors, both badly wounded. The sole living survivor, John Davis, skipper of PCF-19, plans to speak at the funeral.

Tony Chandler’s final homecoming has become a poignant event for the close-knit community of former swift boat sailors. Fewer than 3,000 served on patrol craft during the war, they say. Fifty-three of them were killed, according to the Swift Boat Sailors Association. The loss of each was keenly felt.

“There is no doubt this is the last swift boat KIA (killed in action) we’ll see buried in our lifetime,” said Dave Wallace, of Atlanta, director of the Swift Boat Sailors Association.

Wallace said he hopes the burial brings peace to the family.

“Every one of us lost friends over there,” he said. “But if there’s no resolution, if the body’s never recovered or something like that, it just doesn’t end. And so, this allows the family to say, ‘OK, it’s finally over.'”

By all accounts, Tony Chandler was a handsome, popular young man who excelled at everything he did.

He was an excellent athlete, according to his brother Joe. He was a superb pistol shot and particularly loved western-style revolvers. He was an avid hunter and fisherman.

“He taught me how to bait my first hook,” Joe said.

Tony loved fast cars. He owned a 1964 Chevy Impala and tore up the local drag-racing circuit. He loved practical jokes. He was popular with the girls.

“He was quite a ladies’ man,” Joe said. “He was one of the few people I know who had girls coming to the house to get him instead of him having to beat the bushes for them.”

Both Jan and Joe adored their older brother.

“My parents swear I said his name before I said ‘mommy’ or ‘daddy,'” said Jan, who now lives in Snellville, Ga. “He was my hero. I thought he hung the moon, and in many ways, he’s still my hero.”

But Jan remembers catching a glimpse of her hero’s vulnerable side soon after he received his draft notice in 1965. That year President Lyndon Johnson had announced a massive buildup in Vietnam.

“I remember walking in on him when he was in the bathroom, and he was crying,” she recalled. “That was when the realization hit me that my brother was getting sent to Vietnam.”

But rather than be drafted into the Army, Tony decided to follow the footsteps of his stepfather Jack, a retired Navy man. He enlisted as a boatswain’s mate and underwent swift boat training at Coronado, Calif.

When he was sent to Vietnam in 1967, Chandler was assigned to the coastal patrol squadron which performed picket duty along the coast of South Vietnam. Swift boats were used to interdict enemy troops and supplies infiltrating from North Vietnam through the maze of waterways that lace the country and empty into the South China Sea.

Davis, his former skipper, remembered Chandler as “probably the number-one boatswain’s mate.”

“You never had to tell Chandler to do anything. He was always one step ahead of you,” said Davis, who lives in Ohio. “He was my favorite sailor. The other crewmen were great too, but I kind of liked Chandler the best.”

Chandler was about one month shy of ending his tour on June 15, 1968.

That night, PCF-19 was assigned as the northernmost boat on the picket line, a few kilometers offshore below the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ, which served as the line of demarcation between North and South Vietnam.

Shortly after midnight, PCF-19 exploded in a bright flash of light and sank within minutes. The cause of the explosion remains shrouded in mystery.

Marines at “Ocean View,” a coastal outpost directly across from PCF-19 reported what appeared to be North Vietnamese helicopters moving out to sea from above the DMZ. The U.S. government maintains that North Vietnam never used helicopters during the war.

The attack killed Chandler and four other crewmen. Three bodies were recovered. One sailor, Frank Bowman, died as his crew mate, John Anderegg, was trying to pull him into a life raft. He slipped underwater, and his body was never recovered.

Anderegg later committed suicide, said Davis, who lost an eye in the attack.

United Press International reported the next day that PCF-19 had been struck by enemy artillery fire from a shore battery. Davis believes it was an enemy rocket.

But an official investigation ruled a month later that the boat was sunk accidentally by Air Force jets sent to investigate the helicopter sighting. Pilots mistook the boat as an enemy aircraft on their radar, the investigation found. No disciplinary action was ever taken.

The USS Boston and an Australian vessel, HMAS Hobart, were also hit by rockets in the attack, UPI reported. Two Australian sailors were killed and several wounded.

But Jim Steffes, a sailor on nearby PCF-12, is certain that his boat was also attacked by helicopters as they arrived to help look for survivors.

“The official story says they were strafed by machine guns,” said Steffes, who lives in Sun City, Calif. “Well, our jets at that time did not have machine guns. They were hit by rockets. The ones that attacked us hovered over the water about 300 feet out, and we don’t have any jets I know of that can do that. But they’re never going to admit anything.”

Steffes later described what he saw to a sketch artist at the board of inquiry. The drawing the artist produced was of a Russian-made “Hound” helicopter.

“I only described what I saw,” he said. “They said, thank you, Mr. Steffes, and I went out. When the official report came out, it was fixed-wing aircraft.”

For years, the Young family held out hope that Tony had survived and would one day make it home. But eventually, they stopped talking about him, and avoided the subject altogether.

Their mother, Bessie, took Tony’s death particularly hard. And to this day, she finds the subject difficult to talk about, her children say.

Joe remained angry and hurt for nearly three deacades.

“For years, I thought he had died for no reason,” Joe said. “I felt like he was just on a 50-foot boat. How was that important? Why did he have to die?”

The circle began to close in the early 1990s after diplomatic relations began to be re-established between the United States and Vietnam.

According to the Army’s forensic report, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese recovery team traveled in 1993 to Quang Tri Province to investigate the incident. The team interviewed a fisherman who told them he had salvaged metal from the wreck and had recovered a bone fragment which he buried near his home. The fisherman turned over the bone, along with a military identification card which belonged to one of the survivors. A dog tag, which was kept by another man who dived at the wreck, was never recovered.

Two other men interviewed separately in 1993 said they saw PCF-19 as it was struck by coastal artillery fire, but their accounts conflicted in how fast the boat sank and its location.

Recovery teams traveled to the province again in 1994 and 1996, but turned up no further evidence or personal effects.

Bessie Young and Bowman’s mother were asked to provide DNA samples three years ago. Analysis confirmed earlier this year that the 8.5-centimeter bone fragment belonged to Chandler.

“They didn’t tell us that until about a month ago,” Joe said. “They ran them through triple-blind tests and came to the conclusion that this upper left arm bone–and that’s all we’re gonna get–was definitely my mother’s son.”

Jan says she “sees the hand of God” in the chain of events.

“What’s amazing is that they have such a reverence for the dead in their culture, that even though this bone belonged to an enemy, they still buried it,” she said.

Joe says thinking about his brother still makes him “an emotional wreck.” But his anger and bitterness have lessened over the years. Swift boat sailors, veterans of the war have told him, served a crucial role and saved many lives.

“It kind of eases the pain,” Joe said. “Maybe his sacrifice saved other American boys’ lives.”

Davis, the skipper, says he still misses Chandler and thinks of him often.

“It’s a relief in many ways, ” Davis said. “Everybody is accounted for. Everybody is all together now.”

Jan says even her mother has found a bit of peace.

“She says now at least she’ll have a grave to place some flowers on from time to time,” Jan said.

(c) 2001, The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.).

POW Museum Honors Pueblo Crew – April 26, 2001

Copyright 2001 The Macon Telegraph
All Rights Reserved

April 26, 2001 Thursday HOME EDITION

LENGTH: 1062 words
BYLINE: Drew Brown, The Macon Telegraph
They were beaten, tortured and forced to undergo 11 months of humiliation at the hands of their North Korean captors 33 years ago.

Their own government did not consider them prisoners of war until 1989.

They’ve been regarded largely as an unfortunate footnote in the 50-year history of the Cold War.

But the sailors of the USS Pueblo remain confident that one day their country will give them the full recognition they deserve for their service.

And they say a ceremony to honor them Wednesday at the National Prisoner of War Museum has brought them one step closer to their goal.

“It’s the culmination of another effort to find proper recognition for men who served under really terrible conditions, with brutal treatment (and) very little food,” said retired Navy Cmdr. Lloyd “Pete” Bucher, the Pueblo’s skipper.

Outside the museum, Bucher, 73, of San Diego, Calif., and about a dozen other Pueblo crewmen unveiled a bronze plaque that commemorates their ordeal.

The crewmen and their skipper unveiled the plaque alongside similar ones erected by veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The memorial’s installment will help ensure that the Pueblo’s story is not forgotten, said Fred Boyles, superintendent of the Andersonville historic site.

“Forty percent of the visitors who came here last year were schoolchildren,” Boyles said. “And they don’t know a thing about the Pueblo. This is a place where they can learn that history. We can offer future generations the opportunity to learn this remarkable story.”

The USS Pueblo was conducting electronic surveillance in international waters Jan. 23, 1968, when North Korean gunboats and aircraft attacked the unarmed vessel.

The attack killed one crewman and wounded 13 others, two critically. The 82 surviving crewmen were seized and held 11 months before their release.

F. Carl “Skip” Schumacher, the Pueblo’s operations officer, said it soon became apparent that the crew would not be treated as conventional prisoners of war.

“It was clear they expected a military response,” the St. Louis resident said, referring to his captors. “But it became clear after three to five days that there would not be a military response. We realized we had become hostages.”

The North Koreans subjected the Pueblo crew to frequent beatings in the first few days. They were denied food, personal hygiene and medical care for the injured.

Steven Woelk, of McLouth, Kan., was the most critically injured of the crew, with severe shrapnel wounds. He was finally taken to a hospital and treated after two weeks of captivity. He spent 44 days in solitary confinement before he rejoined the rest of the crew.

He thinks of the experience often.

“I really can’t put it into words,” he said. “I look back on the experience and some of the things we did and went through. It was a tough time for us.”

The North Koreans subjected the crew to a punishing regime of interrogation and propaganda. Bucher realized that he and the crew had enormous value as hostages in the political drama being played out in negotiations for their release. He decided the men would do whatever they could to undermine the North Koreans’ propaganda efforts.

Bucher and the crew used American slang and Navy lingo to convey messages that would be understood at home, but not by their captors.

In a famous incident, crew members were photographed displaying a universal hand gesture that they told their captors was the “Hawaiian good luck” symbol.

In another incident, the crew issued statement in which they described how “we were all eager to pee on” North Korea, its people and leader Kim Il Sung, and the country’s army and navy, Bucher said.

They told their captors the phrase was one of affection. The statement was broadcast all over the world.

“It was a great happenstance to me,” Bucher said.

Eventually, the North Koreans caught on to what the Pueblo crew was up to and subjected them to a regimen of beatings so severe that the men still refer to it as “Hell Week.”

Despite the abuse, the crew felt a great measure and pride and redemption.

“The beatings that were the worst hurt the least because we knew that’s when we were getting their goat,” Bucher said.

The men credit Bucher for keeping them together as a crew during the long ordeal.

“I can honestly say if it were not for his leadership, we of the Pueblo would not be here today,” Schumacher said.

They say that Wednesday’s ceremony was a way of honoring him more than anything else.

“Bucher is still the soul of the crew,” said Bob Hill, of Salisbury, Md., a 19-year-old boatswain’s mate at the time of his captivity.

“There is a lot of love and respect there that will never go away.”

After their release Dec. 23, 1968, the Pueblo crew was awarded 12 medals for heroism during their captivity and 97 medals for individual resistance efforts. They were each awarded the Purple Heart for the beatings they underwent.

But the Navy considered a court martial for Bucher for allowing the Pueblo to fall into enemy hands. He was criticized for not resisting the attack, scuttling the ship or destroying more classified material.

Bucher said he actually pushed for a court martial in an effort to clear his name. But he thinks the Navy never intended to allow one to happen.

A trial would have revealed how the Navy brass, the Pentagon and the intelligence community all failed to act on indications that the Pueblo was at risk of attack, he said.

“There were some areas where they should have given us better support and they didn’t,” Bucher said. “They didn’t want that to come out.”

Bucher and crew members say the recent standoff between China and the United States over China’s detention of 24 Navy members of a damaged surveillance plane brought back poignant memories.

“I don’t think there was a heck of a lot else that could have been done in this instance,” he said.

Bucher said he is still angry at the way high-level mistakes which led to the Pueblo’s capture have been covered up or remain classified.

But he feels confident the full truth of the Pueblo incident will come out and that its crew will get their due.

“All that information is bound to come out,” he said. “But whether it comes out in my lifetime or not, I don’t know.”