Revolution

Srebrenica

Of all the inventions of government, war has caused more misery than all others combined. War evokes the basest nature of men, and is always and without exception accompanied by torture, massacres and rape.

The Bosnian war is typical, although perhaps its atrocities were better known from its closeness to European powers and the intense interest shown by the press and human rights organizations.

The Serb conquest of the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, a supposed United Nations safe haven, exemplifies the hatred and violence of the war.

Safe Haven

The Bosnian war is typical of the countless petty tribal disputes that have afflicted humanity throughout its history. Three main ethnic groups, Serbs, Croats and Muslims, are competing for territory, some desolate rocky soil in a remote corner of Europe. For that, they ruthlessly murder and rape each other.

Into this atmosphere of ethnic hatred, the United Nations stepped in, hoping to mediate and keep the violence from affecting a larger area. The U.N. decreed certain towns in Bosnia to be "safe havens," where war was strictly off-limits. Srebrenica was one of those towns. In response to the offer of U.N. protection, more than 40,000 mostly Muslim refugees sought safe haven in Srebrenica.

The Siege

Dutch "peacekeepers" were assigned by the U.N. to protect Srebrenica. The Dutch commander warned in May 1995 of signs that the Serbs were preparing to attack, but the U.N. did not act on his warning. Throughout June the Bosnian Serb army continued their preparations, weakening the Dutch force by allowing troops to leave but not allowing replacements, and by seizing supplies destined for the troops.

In the early morning hours of July 6, the Serbs began their attack, firing at the U.N. compound and shelling a nearby village, continuing their assault through the ensuing days. The Dutch asked the U.N. for a NATO airstrike against the Serb artillery, but the request was rejected.

The U.N. was trying to get the Serbs to agree to peace talks, and did not want to give the Serbs reason to reject talks.

By July 9, the Serbs were directly attacking the safe area. In a scene blending the modern and the eternal, the U.N. commander faxed the Serbian General Ratko Mladic warning him to stop his attack. The Serbs ignored the warning, penetrating to the center of Srebrenica, falling back from a Dutch blockade only under a hail of machine gun fire.

The U.N. commander for Bosnia, General Bernard Janvier, decided not to act against the Serbs, despite his advisers' recommendation for air strikes. The Dutch mistakenly believed Janvier had ordered an air strike for the morning of July 11, and again warned the Serbs to leave.

The Fall

When morning broke on July 11, 1995, in Srebrenica, the Serbs held their positions, but stopped shelling the town. By 11 a.m., it was apparent that there would be no air strike, and the Serbs renewed their attack.

At this point, Janvier finally approved a air strike, but it was limited to four planes which only managed to damage one tank. Thousands of Serb soldiers stormed the city, seizing Dutch peacekeepers as hostages and threatening to kill them if air strikes were not called off. The U.N. yielded to the Serb threat, and the Serbs assumed control of Srebrenica.

About 15,000 Muslims fled Srebrenica, attempting the three-day journey through Serb territory to areas not yet overrun. The remaining 25,000 refugees jammed a Dutch camp in the town of Potocari.

The Massacre

On the night of July 11, 1995, the Serbs began their massacre of Muslims. They shot at least nine refugees at the Potocari camp, and were accused of raping several of the women. Over the succeeding days, the Serbs would massacre as many as 8,000 people.

Survivors and Serbian civilians living near Srebrenica confirmed the bloody details. Human rights observers, the press and military spy missions corroborated the stories.

On July 12, the Serbs, led by Mladic, herded the refugees onto trucks and buses, separating the men from the women. The men were driven to Serb border towns, and crammed into warehouses, schools and abandoned buildings. The Serbs pulled men at random from the buildings, took them outside, beat some of them and killed others.

The Serbs then began driving the Muslims in groups of 25 to 30 out into the fields, lining them up in small groups, and shooting them. A handful of men survived by hiding under the dead bodies.

The refugees that fled to Potocari were hunted down and killed in a similar manner.

Among the evidence of the Serb atrocities are U.S. reconnaissance satellite photographs. One photo shows hundreds of Muslims held in fields at gunpoint on July 13; a U-2 spy plane photographed fresh graves in the same fields two weeks later. Intelligence agencies collect far more data than they can analyze, however, and the CIA required survivors' testimony to help focus their efforts on thousands of images in certain areas, finally presenting the pictures to U.S. President Clinton on August 4.

War Goes On

During the first week of August 1995, the Croatian army reconquered Croatia's Krajina region from the Serbs, sending Serb forces into retreat. Srebrenica then served as a home for Serbian refugees from the Croatian attack.

In September, NATO airstrikes pummeled Serbian heavy weapons in Sarajevo. The Serbs agreed to participate peace talks in October.


Source: October 28, 1995, New York Times News Service article, "The killing of Srebrenica."