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Memories of Death and Torture Haunt Ex-Inmates of Serb Camps

November 9, 1992 GMT

TRAVNIK, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ Physically, Fuad Dzamastagic is safe now. But his mind still slips back to the Serb prison camps, where he and others say they lived in a hell of beatings and torture.

″I couldn’t kill a chicken before,″ the 32-year-old sales clerk said softly and deliberately, his gaze far away. ″But after what they did to me and the others, I could pluck out their eyes with my bare hands.″

After four months in the Bosnian Serb camps, he and about 80 other former prisoners, mostly Muslims, reached safety in Travnik last week. Doctors say their wounds are healing, but their minds may not.

All such prisoners were supposed to be released by Oct. 31, under an agreement reached at the London peace conference in August. But thousands remain behind, partly because there are few safe places to send them. Other countries have put the brakes on accepting more Bosnian refugees.

The effects of camp life were painfully evident as Dzamastagic and others gathered in a room at Travnik’s military clinic to tell their stories. They told similar stories of mutilation, killings and electroshock torture.

Dzamastagic recalled the nightly beatings of five or six men at a time.

″Those who remained had to carry (the others) back in blankets,″ he said, staring vacantly. ″They were beaten so badly that one or two were usually dead. Others died during the night.″

Another captive, Dzavid Mahmuljin, 27, said: ″I was a policeman for 6 years; I know what a criminal is. But our captors were not criminals. They weren’t even animals.″

All Bosnian factions - Serbs, Croats and Muslims - have been accused of atrocities, but international organizations have identified Serbs as the most flagrant offenders.

Serbs also are considered the main practitioners of ″ethnic cleansing,″ the purging of ethnic groups to consolidate control over territory.

Dzamastagic said was changing a tire on his car at home in Prijedor, 60 miles northwest of Travnik, on June 10 when Serb militiamen wearing stocking masks appeared and took him away.

″I had no weapon,″ he said. ″I was not a member of the territorial defense.″

Promises of quick release after interrogation went unfulfilled. He said he and 1,000 other Prijedor men spent a month in the local ceramics factory converted into a detention center.

He recounted an overnight orgy of killing he says began July 14, when about 250 new arrivals were hustled off of buses and locked in a 20-square-yard room.

Men with machine guns took up positions in front of the door and flung smoke canisters inside, he said.

″Those inside broke down the door,″ Dzamastagic said. ″They shot them as they came out. We heard everything.″

No more than 30 survived, he said. Their captors said the others were shot while ″trying to escape.″

On July 15, Dzamastagic was transferred to the notorious Omarska camp, 12 miles to the southeast.

There, the daily meal was a slice of bread and thin soup. Dzamastagic and others, speaking independently, said inmates had four minutes to run a gantlet of guards swinging metal bars, jump over a table, slurp down the soup, grab the bread and return through the gantlet.

Inmates were forced to sit or crouch day and night in extremely close quarters, he said. Some who lost control of their bowels in fear when guards approached were summarily shot.

The backs of others were slit open with a thin metal half-moon taken from the spire of a destroyed mosque, he said.

″They forced one man to bite off the testicles of a man dying after a beating,″ said Mahmuljin. ″They beat him to music.″

The ex-prisoners described themselves as once peaceful men who now crave revenge. They spoke of insomnia, anxiety attacks, dizziness and fainting spells.

″I feel like I have ants in my head,″ Dzamastagic said. ″I feel extremely heavy all the time.″

Another man, who identified himself only as Nihad, held out a trembling hand full of tranquilizers.

″I was completely normal before,″ he said. ″I am 32 years old, and I feel like an old man of 70.″

″Most of these men are young, and their bodies will heal. They already look normal,″ said one Muslim physician who asked for anonymity out of concern for relatives still in Serb-held territory. ″But a fuse has been blown in some of the minds.″

Dzamastagic described being taken one day into a room where there were ″gigantic batteries.″ He said the ends of what looked like automobile jumper cables were placed on his temples, and he was jolted with electricity until he lost consciousness.

He and others said they believe at least 1,000 prisoners were killed in Omarska before they were transferred in early August to Manjaca camp, near the northern Bosnian city of Banja Luka.

They said treatment there was somewhat better, apparently because of concern about world outrage as news of atrocities leaked out.

Dzamastagic recalled having to carry bodies to a common collection areas in Omarska.

″Some were still alive as we dumped them,″ he said hollowly. ″Flies were already crawling over one of them as he opened his eyes and said: ‘Greet my family for me’ - and died.″