No hope for future but safe for now

USA Today
July 8, 1993, Thursday, Final Edition
BYLINE: Tom Squitieri
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. 8A
LENGTH: 700 words
DATELINE: POSUSJE, Bosnia-Herzegovina

They began arriving at this border town in May 1992, looking for letters of transit to a new world of freedom.

But just as in Casablanca during World War II, the weary, desperate refugees continue to wait – for the right to pass into Croatia, to go farther north into Europe, to go anywhere to escape the fighting.

“More than 20,000 have passed through here,” says Zoran Kovac, an International Red Cross worker in this city on the Croatian border, east of Split. “If they had friends, relatives, someone on the outside, they would have moved by now.”

Thirty-six thousand people of all ages are pressing at the border here. They have no documents, no friends or contacts in the outside world.

Now they live inside a school’s classrooms and outside in the school’s dirty playground. In the gymnasium, basketball hoops are raised and the just-washed clothes of the 140 occupants hang to dry.

So the wait goes on.

This camp, run by the Red Cross, will stay open “however long as necessary,” Kovac says. “They may have no prospects, but it’s safe.”

For those refugees who have somehow made it to this camp – through the tortures, the killings, the destruction, the pain – it means they are as far away from the war as they now can get. It means they are still alive; they’ve survived.

“What I have gone through, it’s difficult to imagine that anyone has gone through,” says Hussein Klipic, 78.

Klipic’s nightmare began May 21, 1992, when he and other Bosnian Muslims fled their town of Kozarac just as the Serb forces moved through.

The Serbs sacked the village and “took everything, burned everything.”

Klipic, his wife and the others – believing the Serbs were gone – thought they were safe to go home.

But as the group neared the town, they were caught. Says Klipic: “They beat us, they raped a 12-year-old girl in the yard, they forced people into the trucks and took us to camp.”

Klipic was in the first prison camp, Karatim, for 20 days. He was taken there with one of his sons, who was mentally retarded. He has not seen that son again.

For the next six months Klipic was moved from camp to camp, a roll call of horror houses – Trnopolje, Prijedor, Mrakovica Mountain, Teslic, Ripac, Majanca. Most were close to the small area of Bosnia he lived in all of his life, the fields he had walked through as a boy or farmed as a man becoming pathways to his next prison.

In one camp he ran into another of his sons, a 21-year-old. That son survived – making it here to Posusje – but not before his captors knocked out most of his teeth and broke his leg. When he reached here, he weighed 77 pounds.

The Western world has already seen the face of Klipic and thousands like him last summer, faces that were seared across the media, peering out from behind barbed wire fences and thick walls of former cement factories. They were civilian prisoners of war, imprisoned in what some called concentration camps, some called death camps, some called relocation camps.

Whatever name, the camps were places where innocent civilians endured abuse, starvation and death.

“It was just horrible, for days at time we wouldn’t get any food,” Klipic says. “It was only to die that we had to look forward to.”

Prison camp stories faded in the face of fresher, ghastlier atrocities. But those in camps continued to be victimized until, for no reason, they were killed.

That didn’t happen to Klipic and his wife. In August 1992, they and others were put in buses and driven south. Any remaining jewelry, money or valuables the refugees still had were taken. At one point, 250 were led from the buses and not heard of again.

For whatever reason, Klipic was set free. “I’m an older man, I lived a lot. I would hope and pray I can live to see peace.’

Last May, Klipic celebrated his birthday in his home with his wife, family and a gathering of friends over a small meal. Seven days later he was running for his life.

So when his birthday arrived this year, he said his present was just being alive, even in this squalid refugee camp.

Now he waits for his 79th birthday, when he hopes he’ll receive an unusual gift: Hussein Klipic hopes for “justice” – leaving no doubt he means revenge.