One morning in 1992, Bosniak Ramo Kadric drove to work to start his bread delivery route in the town of Srebrenica. A few hours later, he was about to be killed by Serb militants. A Serb friend rushed in to help him.
Many Bosniaks and Serbs fled Srebrenica when the war first reached them in April of 1992 and Serb forces started looting the town. The militants, coming from Croatian Vukovar, were armed to the teeth, wearing camouflage uniforms, black gloves, bandoliers and ski masks.
At the time, the Bosnian War was still gathering steam as violence escalated between Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks in the once peaceful Yugoslav republic. In neighboring Croatia, the war was already in full swing. Serb and Croat forces, dredging up old divisions, embraced the symbols of Chetniks and Ustasha, nationalistic paramilitary groups notorious for their crimes in World War II. The massacre of Srebrenica, where Serb forces killed thousands of Bosnian men and boys in 1995, was still three years in the future.
When the paramilitaries first entered the town in 1992, most of the locals tried to keep off the streets. Mile Janjic, a local veterinarian and an ethnic Serb, did not.
"The streets were empty and I was just driving around, eventually reaching the main square," Mile told DW. "A group of those Vukovar folks was outside a supermarket which they looted earlier. So I get closer and I see one of them is aiming his rifle at a man who was tied up in front of the supermarket, near the stairs. I knew the man. So I shouted, 'What are you doing?' at this 'soldier' and I pulled the barrel of his rifle to point it downwards."
'Drive him out of here so he wouldn't get killed'
"The guy told me, 'We caught this ustasha so I want to kill him.' And I yelled, 'How can you tell me who the ustasha are around here when I'm the one who lives here?' I was moving towards Ramo, and the people from Vukovar were just exchanging glances and whispering, probably thinking I was a nutcase, going barehanded against a rifle," Mile says.
Today, Mile Janjic is the owner of a veterinary station in Srebrenica. People who know him say he is kindhearted and cheerful. He doesn't like telling the story of saving his friend Ramo, but he still remembers it like it was yesterday.
"Ramo was scared out of his mind. I told him not to be afraid and that I will not let them kill him. I wasn't in the army, I had no uniform," he told DW. "I noticed Ramo's green [Volkswagen] Golf right down the street, and I saw a woman that I knew walking by, her name was Rada, she was a nurse. I told her: 'His car is right there, drive him out of here so he doesn't get killed.' And that's how it happened. The Vukovar paramilitaries did not react. There were a few bystanders too… Anyway, Ramo survived."
'I am sorry that I could not help Rada'
Ramo Kadrić had driven to Srebrenica that morning to do his job - deliver bread. But when he got to the bakery in the suburbs, he was captured by three police officers who made him sing Serbian nationalist songs. They threatened to kill him if he refused.
"I wasn't just singing, I was howling out as loud as I could so they wouldn't kill me. They took me to the main square and handed me over to the paramilitaries so they would kill me. I was half-dead with fear when Mile came. We knew each other from before. He was arguing, fighting them, to this day I have no idea how he managed to stop them from killing me and save me. If he hadn't showed up, I would have ended up as the first casualty of war in Srebrenica," says Ramo. "And this woman, who also helped me, she took me to her apartment. I spent the night there and in the morning, she took me to the bakery where I found my truck. I drove it back to my village and she drove behind me in my car. I heard she was killed later during the war. To this day, I am sorry for not having the chance to help her back, to save her, because I heard she was killed by 'our' forces, the Muslims."
'Whatever he could do, he would'
Ramo and Mile got back in touch only after the end of the war. They talked on the phone in 1997 and set up a meeting in a restaurant outside Sarajevo. Mile came all the way from Srebrenica for it.
"It was tough meeting him, lots of tears," Ramo says, his eyes tearing up again as he tells the story. "You just see the man who let you live, who gave your life back to you. He then came over to my house, and we talked the whole night. When I eventually got back to my old house, he helped me a lot. He even lent me money. Whatever he could do, he would."
Ramo managed to return to his home village in 2001, where he is making a decent living by farming and breeding cattle. He heads to Srebrenica from time to time, and his friendship with Mile stays strong. "Almost every time I go to the town, we have coffee together. He also comes to check on my cattle," Ramo says. "We always visit each other for Christmas and for Eid. We'll keep doing that as long as we live."