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Quest Launched for Reporter's Freedom as He Paces Behind Bars in Bosnian Serb Jail

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THE warden escorted David Rohde to his cell and left. Scared, Rohde stood near the doorway, feeling the eyes of the room's five occupants upon him.

Hours ago, he'd thought he was on the verge of freedom. Now he seemed to have turned a corner in a Balkan maze and found bars instead of an exit.

Five days had passed since his capture by Bosnian Serbs. As far as Rohde was aware, no one he cared about knew where he was, and his family probably thought he was dead.

''Hi, how are you,'' he said nervously in Serbian. ''I'm an American journalist. My name's David.''

One of the men turned toward him. ''Are you the American journalist?'' he asked.

''Yes,'' said Rohde.

''I just heard your brother on Voice of America,'' said the prisoner. ''He's trying to get you out.''

Rohde felt a rush of elation. His family knew he was alive.

Christian Science Monitor reporter David Rohde sneaked into Bosnian Serb territory in late October in search of evidence of war crimes.

Caught at a dam where Muslim civilians appeared to have been massacred, minutes from the end of his mission and a safe return, he was held by police convinced that no journalist would risk so dangerous a trip. Instead, they appeared sure that he was a spy.

The authorities of the self-styled ''Republic of Srpska,'' Rohde decided, were obsessed with sovereignty and respect for their laws.

This wasn't surprising in light of the fact that the outside world considers Srpska less a nation than an armed camp of usurpers.

After days of interrogation, Rohde was increasingly confident he would survive his ordeal. The problem was that somehow, before this was over, he would have to satisfy his captors' desire for Bosnian Serb respect.

'Like a bird'

Still, his sentence was somewhat unexpected. On Friday, Nov. 3, Rohde was waiting in a small office in the Zvornik police station, a room he'd come to know all too well. His interrogator, Marko, was late.

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