U.N.Troops Used Serbs' Sex Slaves -- Witnesses See Peacekeepers At Brothel Near Serb Camp

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina - U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia regularly visited a Serb-run brothel outside Sarajevo, where some of them took sexual advantage of Muslim and Croat women forced into prostitution, according to Muslim witnesses and the local Serb commander.

Although the Bosnian government charged repeatedly that Bosnian Serbs had set up a concentration camp at the same site, U.N. peacekeepers neither investigated the facility nor reported its existence to their superiors, according to former prisoners and U.N. officials.

The visits occurred in the summer and autumn of 1992 at "Sonja's Kon-Tiki," a restaurant-pension in Vogosca, about six miles north of Sarajevo, according to 12 Muslim and three Serb witnesses. A U.N. investigation of alleged black-marketeering and other improprieties by U.N. personnel in Sarajevo has been widened to include these allegations.

Sonja's gained notoriety following the capture and trial of Borislav Herak, a Serb soldier who was sentenced to death by the Bosnian government in March for raping and murdering Muslim and Croat women at Sonja's during the summer of 1992. Herak testified at his trial that he visited Sonja's two to three times a week, raping women there. He said that on one occasion he saw U.N. personnel at Sonja's.

According to Branislav Vlaco, the Bosnian Serb commander of the camp from May to November 1992, U.N. troops were frequent visitors to Sonja's.

"They came several times a week while I was commandant," he said. He said the U.N. personnel came for food and drinks, to watch television on his satellite receiver, "and they came for the girls, too."

Vlaco, who later became chief of police in Vogosca, said about 50 U.N. peacekeepers came to visit. The officers were from Canada, New Zealand, France, Ukraine, and an African country, he said. A member of the self-styled Bosnian Serb government and a restaurant employee also confirmed frequent visits by U.N. officers.

Detention camp nearby

Vlaco also ran the detention camp in a half-buried bunker about 150 feet behind the restaurant, where 80 to 100 people, mostly Muslim men, were held in inhumane conditions.

Survivors of the camp interviewed by Newsday reported that in the summer and autumn of 1992, uniformed U.N. troops arrived on U.N. transports and jeeps on six or more occasions and entered the restaurant. Sometimes they stayed for raucous parties that lasted into the night. On other occasions the camp survivors saw young Muslim or Croat women being forced into U.N. armored personnel carriers or civilian cars that followed the U.N. vehicles to an unknown destination. Not once did U.N. personnel investigate the bunker, they said.

The witnesses to events at Sonja's included nine Muslim men from Vogosca or the nearby towns of Semizovac and Svrake who had been held in the bunker, and three Muslim women who were held at Sonja's for varying periods. Two of the women told Newsday they had been raped at the brothel, one by a U.N. officer, one by a Bosnian Serb soldier. A third said she witnessed Bosnian Serb officers rape and kill two Muslim girls in front of a crowd of captured Muslim women.

Every one of a dozen Muslim witnesses to the purported U.N. visits to Sonja's stated his or her strong belief that members of the U.N. protection force, sent to Bosnia to ease the suffering of civilians, had joined in the sexual abuse of women detainees.

The interviews of the witnesses took place in Sarajevo, in government-held territory in central Bosnia, and in other countries during a six-month Newsday investigation.

These reported abuses were taking place at about the same time Serb forces were operating rape camps and systematically raping Muslim and Croat women as part of their "ethnic cleansing" campaign to drive non-Serbs out of Bosnia.

Soldiers in U.N. uniforms

Rifat Durak, 37, a Muslim policeman from Vogosca, said he had been cutting wood when the U.N. vehicles drove up in the early evening. "I was about 10 to 15 yards from the transporter, which parked in front of the restaurant. The doors opened at the back. The soldiers got out. They were in complete UNPROFOR (U.N. Protection Force) uniforms."

He said they remained inside for about 90 minutes. "Then four or five girls left with them. They were beautiful girls, ages 20 to 25. They were taken in a red Volkswagen. I thought there might be a party somewhere." Durak said he knew one of the girls taken away. "She was a Croat. From her reaction, I could see that she was scared and not going willingly."

Vlaco asserted that the women kept at Sonja's were local "girls of low morals" whom he had "invited" to come to the pension. But Muslim prisoners said they recognized them as Muslim and Croat women from Vogosca and the nearby villages of Svrake or Semizovac. Vogosca had a population of 11,700 in 1991; Svrake had 1,240, and Semizovac, 2,100.

The three women interviewed by Newsday said they had been strong-armed and dragged from their houses by Serb authorities and detained at Sonja's at gunpoint. The Muslim witnesses said they believed most of the women held there were executed after they had been raped. Some said they had seen the women's corpses. Herak was found guilty of raping 16 women and executing 12 of them.

Newsday also located witnesses who reported frequent visits by U.N. personnel to the Park Hotel in Vogosca, where they said local women were routinely taken at gunpoint to be raped by Serb paramilitary leaders. One witness reported seeing uniformed U.N. soldiers on two separate occasions drinking and dining with the Serb military and surrounded by women, and a high Bosnian Serb official said the U.N. troops often spent the night there.

U.N. officials express surprise

U.N. officials at U.N. headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia, declined to comment on the allegations. Top officers at the headquarters in Sarajevo at the time expressed surprise at the charges of sexual abuse.

Despite reports of the worst atrocities and human-rights abuses in Europe since the Nazi Holocaust, U.N. military commanders in Sarajevo said they felt they had no mandate to investigate allegations of mistreatment in concentration camps. They said they were not even aware that their troops were publicly accused of impropriety because they were not monitoring the local news media, which reported it, a top officer said.

Newsday interviewed a half-dozen top former officers, starting with the commander at the time, Maj. Gen. Lewis MacKenzie of Canada, and each said it was someone else's responsibility to investigate allegations of concentration camps.

According to a senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, U.N. officers are morally bound to report on camps if they came across them.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard referred all calls to the U.N. headquarters in Zagreb. Spokesmen in Zagreb declined to respond to written or telephoned requests for comment on the substance of the allegations, but a press officer said that a special Commission of Inquiry appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali is examining these and other charges of impropriety. In Sarajevo, members of the commission confirmed that they are looking into the charges.