Amela Uzicanin wishes the United States had intervened in Bosnia sooner.
She attended medical school in Banja Luka when the war broke out and derailed her dream of becoming a doctor. Returning to her hometown of Doboj, Uzicanin, as a Muslim in a Serb-controlled region, became a prisoner in her own home."There's something I still remember from being in Doboj almost a year," she said. "You see small kids, maybe 6 or 7 years old, they heard from their parents how they talk . . . "
The children would recognize people they knew were Muslims and "they would pick up and throw stones at them, curse and, you know, do everything what actually they have seen their parents do," she said.
She and her sister were trapped in hostile territory, insulted and forbidden to work. Surviving on gifts from neighbors and money from family, they lived through a time that she recalls as a confusing nightmare. They waited fearfully until finally they were "exchanged" for Serbs who had been trapped on the wrong side of one of Bosnia's new borders.
Uzicanin considers herself fortunate, compared with the suffering of her friends from the "safe haven" region of Srebrenica.
"We were really lucky," she said during an interview at Bedrock, one of the American military bases in eastern Bosnia. "My family - nobody got killed, nobody got tortured, nobody was in a concentration camp."
Conditions were far worse for the people of Srebrenica, she said.
In 1995, before the United States and its coalition partners intervened, the United Nations maintained supposed "safe havens" in Srebrenica and elsewhere, where the United Nations announced it would protect Bosnian Muslims threatened by the "ethnic cleansing" carried out by Bosnian Serb units.
"Ethnic cleansing" was a euphemism for clearing away people of another ethnic background. At its mildest, people were driven out of their homes. At its worst, people were sent to concentration camps and there was wholesale murder of civilians.
In some places, U.N. soldiers seemed to offer reassurance that Muslims would be safe.
"You could see U.N. soldiers all over the town," she said. Thousands of Muslims took shelter in the havens.
In July 1995, Serb forces attacked Srebrenica and other "safe havens." The outnumbered Dutch contingent of U.N. soldiers fled, abandoning the people who had trusted them. In Srebrenica alone, Serb units massacred an estimated 8,000 civilian Muslims, mostly men and boys.
"Srebrenica was a protected town, under their protection, actually. And look what happened," Uzicanin said.
After she was exchanged for a Serb, she volunteered to help a German medical mission working with survivors of the atrocities at Srebrenica. She became friends with people who had lost children, brothers, sisters and parents.
"I had some friends who went through the concentration camps or who were raped," she said. "Or whose husbands were still missing. They're still missing."
She holds the United Nations responsible. It "didn't do anything . . . That's why we have so many people who are still missing. For example, only from Srebrenica, that's only the one town in the whole BiH (Bosnia-Herzegovina) still missing almost 10,000 people."
The American troops truly protect people, she said. They go about heavily armed, a show of force that reassures Bosnians that the atrocities like those in Srebrenica won't happen while they remain here.
"If you ask about the United States Army, I would say only the best," Uzicanin added, "except that you should have come sooner. If the United States Army came out here a little bit earlier, you wouldn't have something like Srebrenica."
Today, at age 26, she is a translator for the American military and she believes she is too old to earn an medical degree. Instead, she may become a nurse. But she is unsure about the future.
Uzicanin worries that the hatreds will last a long time. She thinks back to the children who tormented Muslims in Doboj. "Those kids, they're going to grow up pretty fast," she said.
"In five or 10 years, I'm afraid we're going to have same trouble that we had maybe five years ago."