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2 February 2012
My story

Last Farewell to My Wife in Nevesinje

When the Serbs took away Musan Sarancic’s wife, Sabira, in 1992, he thought her gender might protect her from the worst. But he was wrong; he never saw her again.

Musan Sarancic was physically and mentally tortured in Nevesinje, eastern Herzegovina, and in the military barracks in Bileca during 1992. But it is the murder of his mother and wife, who was five months pregnant at the time, that he find much harder to accept.

Sarancic, then 27, lived with his family in a village of Canje, near Nevesinje, until mid-June 1992, when Serb forces attacked.

The villagers fled into the woods. But the day after the attack, Sarancic returned to the village with his cousin to get food and clothes and there they found eight dead bodies.

“On entering the village, the scene was ghastly. The village was plundered, dogs had been killed and parts of buildings were on fire. Traces of bombs and bullets on the houses were everywhere,” he says.

“The worst scene was when we found those who had been murdered. The bodies had been mutilated. That image is etched so deep in my mind that I won’t forget it for the rest of my life,” he recalls.

But more disasters lay ahead. When he went to the woods to find his wife and sister, they went together to his best man, who suggested that they surrender to the Serbs, as the other neighbours had done.

“As we talked with my best man, his wife left and told a Serb soldier we were there.

“Three armed soldiers then came and arrested us and took us to the Tool Workshop in Nevesinje, where the men and women were separated. Women were detained in the Tool Workshop. They took us to the Cinema,” Sarancic says.

Although he still thought the women would be safe, it did not turn out like that.

Last farewell:

Sarancic recounts his last conversation with his wife: “I took off my wedding ring and told my wife, Sabira, that it might be safer with her. I had a small Koran in my pocket and gave that to her as well.

“We looked each other through moist eyes and I told her ‘I guess they will leave women alone, so this will be safer with you than with me’. But I felt as if she knew we might never see each other again”.

Together with the other men, he was taken to the Cinema in Nevesinje, where he was beaten for the first time – the first of many.

“They took us to a room in front of the projection room and when we entered, we had something to see. The room all bloody, passports strewn all over the floor, identity cards, jackets, shoes ...”

The first beating lasted for about an hour, he says. “The soldier would draw a line on the wall with a knife where we had to hold our hands and then they’d kick us with hands and feet shouting various insults,” Sarancic says.

After the Cinema, he was taken to the barracks in Bileca. The Serbs tied their hands behind their backs, and as they took them off the trucks they beat them again.

“They would pull out someone who could not jump out and just throw him on the asphalt, so he hit it with his back. They would then pull him up and pass him through a line made by the guards and as he did so, they’d hit him again with their hands and feet. You did not dare to raise your head.”

Sarancic then entered the military barracks where he spent about two months.

During that period, the guards and police routinely beat the hundred or so prisoners with feet, batons and wooden sticks.

He recalls how the guards drew lines on the wall with a knife, where the prisoners had to hold their raised hands, so that their fingertips were on the line.

“Your hands went numb. And then they hit you on the hands, between the legs, on the bottom, on the back, everywhere ... All this lasted until we got out,” he says.

Forced intercourse for entertainment:

He was also beaten when he refused to have sexual intercourse with a Croat woman who was clearly mentally ill.

Sarancic said the Serb soldiers tortured the woman into having sexual intercourse with various prisoners of war.

“She would walk from room to room, and they would say ‘Lie with this one, lie with that one’, and she walked around half naked and all covered in blood...

“Once they took me and told me: ‘Come on, have sexual intercourse with her’, I said that I couldn’t, and she said, ‘He doesn’t want me, he is my blood.’”

After refusing intercourse, he says the soldiers knocked him on the floor and kicked him in the head and cursed him.

“After that, they laughed and they told me: ‘Take a rag, clear up your blood’. But as I was clearing up the blood they continued to beat me even more,” Sarancic says.

No trace of wife or mother:

After he was finally exchanged in Mostar, Sarancic had a terrible shock. He could not find either his mother or his wife.

“I visited all the international and domestic institutions seeking information about missing persons, but there was no help… I had no hope of finding my father and brother but I found them - but not my mother and wife. Shock after shock,” Sarancic says.

The remains of his wife were later found in Grebak, above Nevesinje. They were then transferred to Mostar, where DNA analysis proved it was Sabira Sarancic.

“I do not know anything about my mother and God knows whether I’ll ever find her bones,” he says.

“I’ve buried my wife and visit her grave, I know where she is; it would be different if I could find my mother’s bones”, he says.

Sarancic, who now lives in Vrapcici, near Mostar, says he goes back to Canje only occasionally.

He is shocked that only two persons have ever been convicted of war crimes in Nevesinje.

Sarancic testified before the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the trial of Krsto Savic and Milko Mucibabic.

Mucibabic, a former member of the Public Security Station, SJB, in Nevesinje, has since died. In March 2009, he was sentenced to five years and three months imprisonment for crimes committed in Nevesinje in 1992.

Under a second instance verdict, Savic, a former Chief of the Safety Services Centre, CSB, in Trebinje, was jailed for 17 years in April 2011 for crimes against humanity, for planning and ordering the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats through detention, deportation, murders and other inhumane acts.

Albina Sorguč is a BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN's online publication.

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