I was left for dead by firing squad that killed 8,000... I escaped when survivor untied me with his teeth; BOSNIAN RETURNS 21YRS AFTER SREBRENICA MASSACRE.
Lying face-down in the dirt in a pool of his own blood, Nedzad Avdic spotted the Serbian paramilitary's boots inches from his face.
Wracked with pain from three bullet wounds, the 17-year-old froze stock-still, playing dead in the Srebrenica killing field.
Around him were several thousand other Muslim men and boys, most shot dead by the execution squads but some groaning in agony as they clung to life.
Nearly all would be finished off by the booted marksman handpicked by his commander to deliver the coup de grace.
Nedzad and another man lying close to him were the only survivors of the Srebrenica massacre that day, July 14, 1995.
Over the course of a week more than 8,300 died, making it the worst genocide in Europe since the Second World War.
Nedzad shakes his head as he recalls being marched to his death.
"When we got there they told us to find a place to be lined up, five by five," he tells me, speaking unflinchingly about the Serbs' vile final solution.
"There were lines of dead bodies. I could just hear gunfire. As they began to shoot us in our backs, I was thinking my mum would never know where I finished.
"I lay on my stomach, bleeding and trembling. I had been shot in my stomach and right arm.
"The shooting continued and I watched lines of people falling down. I could feel and hear bullets all around me and I could hear the sounds of people dying.
"Then a bullet that had been fired at someone behind me became embedded in my left foot.
"The man sent to check we were all dead shot the man next to me. He was right beside my face. One of them said we were all dead, so they left me. I think I was unconscious after that. I was in such unbearable pain I thought it would be impossible to live."
When Nedzad revived, he turned his head to the side and glimpsed someone wriggling between the bodies.
Woozy from loss of blood, the teenager managed to untie the man's hands, cutting through the rope with a stone. The man reciprocated by gnawing through Nedzad's bind with his teeth.
"At that moment, the next truck containing soldiers and other prisoners was arriving," Nedzad recalls. "I helped the man to get up. I had to crawl over the dead bodies with him to get to the safety of the bushes. And right then they started killing again.
"The man ripped up a T-shirt and wrapped it around my wounds. I wrapped my underwear around the bullet wound on my foot. I was so exhausted that I slept on his knees.
"Afterwards we saw the bulldozers they were using to bury the dead."
Over the following days the two men staggered and crawled through the undergrowth. "I really wanted to die," says Nedzad, now 38, telling his story in London after a memorial reception in Westminster organised by the charity Remembering Srebrenica.
"My body was exhausted and I had lost so much blood. My wounds were infected. He saved me really. He was so brave. He would go off for hours on end to find water.
"We slept in graveyards and bombed-out houses and hid in streams." In a village where Nedzad had played football just a few years before he finally got the medical attention he so urgently needed.
Eventually he was transported to the safe city of Tuzla, where he was taken to hospital. There he discovered that his father, uncle and other relatives had all been killed.
Today it seems unthinkable that the genocide in the former Yugoslavia could take place in Europe so recently, without being prevented by the UN troops stationed in the splintering republics. It was an extraordinary betrayal of tens of thousands of people.
The mass murder was orchestrated by General Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serb military leader, and carried out by the brutal Scorpions paramilitary unit.
Srebrenica had been declared a safe area, watched over by Dutch soldiers - but they failed to prevent the calculated slaughter. As well as the 8,000 men and boys killed, many more were forced from their homes.
Nedzad had to leave his family village in the spring of 1992 when it was burnt down by Serb soldiers. After months of hiding out in woods with other refugees, they decided to head for Srebrenica, effectively a vast refugee camp penned in by Serbian militia.
"We saw the UN troops as rescuers," says Nedzad. "Almost every day we played football with the Dutch soldiers. We had to look everywhere for food because the Serbs controlled what came in and out.
"Completely isolated, we had no idea what was going on in the rest of Bosnia. Then in July 1995, when Mladic's offensive started, the Dutch forgot us, left their checkpoints and fled.
"We feared for our lives. After days of hiding in the woods around Srebrenica, my father, uncle and I headed towards Tuzla, which was safe. There were 2,000 of us, many my age. Running away, we were under constant bombardment by Serb artillery. Many men and boys were killed."
There was a lull in artillery fire as, from surrounding mountains, the Serbian thugs made a loud-hailer announcement.
"They promised us a life, so we surrendered," Nedzad says."They said we'd be with our families.
"But I could hear the irony in the voice of the soldier with the megaphone. They'd agreed a plan with a clear location for a mass execution."
The genocide began hours later.
Pits had already been dug for mass graves. Nedzad would be one of just a handful of survivors able to give evidence of the mass killing to a judge in years to come.
Witnesses told how a convoy of 30 trucks transported the victims to Grbavci school, where up to 5,000 people were murdered.
July 14 was the bloodiest day of the genocide. One witness told how Mladic arrived and told the men: "Your government does not want you and I have to take care of you." They were the last words many heard.
Remembering every sensation of that day 21 years before, Nedzad said: "On July 14 we were driven to a school.
"We thought we might be returning to our families, or to another camp. But when night fell they started killing. They tied our hands behind our backs and took our clothes. We were loaded on the trucks again."
Mladic is on trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, having been harboured by supporters in Serbia until 2011.
Nedzad returned to Srebrenica in 2007 with his wife and three kids. The man he escaped with lives anonymously elsewhere.
Peace has returned to Bosnia, but Nedzad can still detect an undercurrent of lingering ethnic hatred. He worries for the future.
"I had enjoyed growing up in that part of Bosnia," he says. "We got on, all ethnic groups, but TV propaganda produced hatred. In 1995 Radovan Karadzic said life for Muslims should be impossible. That still goes on."
Nedzad is in Britain this week to speak to MPs, as is Hajrudin Mesic, who walked 17 days with barely any food to reach safety after the bombing began in Srebrenica.
Now a father of three, Hajrudin says: "The politicians are the ones that caused all those problems. They caused that war to happen."
Dr Waqar Azmi OBE, chairman of Remembering Srebrenica, said: "Srebrenica teaches us that prejudice and hatred left unchecked can have catastrophic consequences, not only for the generation that suffers the violence, but for the following generations whose futures are also irreversibly altered."
"He saved me. He was so brave. He'd go off for hours to find water NEDZAD AVDIC ON HIS FELLOW SURVIVOR "When the offensive started the Dutch soldiers left us NEDZAD AVDIC SURVIVOR OF SREBRENICA MASSACRE
WARNING Survivors Hajrudin and Nedzad
LUCKY SURVIVOR Nedzad Ytoday
GENOCIDE Uncovering mass grave in Pilica
BUTCHER Serbian general Ratko Mladic
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Jul 15, 2016|
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