This Week: Anniversary of Srebrenica massacre; international warrants issued for Serb leaders; increasing attacks on peacekeepers.
7 July 96, Sun
A IFOR convoy was ambushed near Kenzavici, on the Sarajevo-Rogatica road, in Bosnian Serb territory. The Portugese peacekeepers returned fire on the three unidentified assailaints. There were no casualties. IFOR said the ambushed may have been conducted by “rogue elements” outside Serb military control.
Note: Or Muslim troops attempting to further isolate the Serbs. (Remember that several Muslim special ops teams have recently been caught in the vicinity of the IEBL.) It could also have been mujahideen.
A UN relief convoy travelling to the Muslim enclave of Gorazde was stoned after being stopped at an illegal Bosnian Serb checkpoint in Kopaci. The UN said the “quite well orchestrated event” shattered the glass on 13 of the 14 vehicles, causing almost $30,000 in damage. The non-military escort did not know how to respond to the assault because the attackers were seven- and eight-year-old children. IFOR may escort future convoys, but it is not clear what they will do when confronted by hostile, young civilians.
Comment: Spank them?
8 July 96, Mon
CIA Director John Deutch made a secret visit to Sarajevo last week, to discuss U.S. concerns over the security threat posed by mujahideen. The visit was prompted by the terrorist bombing of the U.S. barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia several weeks ago. Just prior to the Saudi bombing, Clinton declared Bosnia free of a fundamentalist threat. Several thousand Iranians, Saudis and other foreign Muslims fought for the Bosnian government during the war.
U.S. Ambassador John Menzies asked President Alija Izetbegovic to look into allegations of criminal activities by mujahideen that remain in Bosnia. Izetbegovic replied that he is sending officials to Zenica to investigate the reports and take appropriate action. A joint commission of American and Bosnian officials will also keep an eye on “former” mujahideen to make sure they do not pose a threat to IFOR.
Comment: I called this one.
U.N. investigators began excavating a mass grave near Cerska, 20 miles west of Srebrenica. One body was exhumed today. The area has been fenced off with concertina wire. U.S. troops are providing security during the day. “Qualified” Serbs are guarding it at night. The work at Cerska is expected to last seven to ten days and yield up to several hundred bodies.
A U.S. soldier died of a heart attack after a routine physical workout at Tuzla Main airfield. He was taken to a mobile hospital unit where he was pronounced dead an hour later.
9 July 96, Tue
The approval of a joint defense law by the Muslim-Croat Federation has cleared the way for a $240 million program to train, equip and reorganize the Bosnian military. Muslim and Croat officials still have not settled the matter of who will be the supreme commander, but agreed to settle the matter within three months. Despite the continued presence of mujahideen, that was good enough for Clinton to declare that he was “pleased to announce the start of the U.S.-led train and equip program for the armed forces of the Bosnian Federation.” The U.S. is contributing $100 million to the program with the rest being donated by Islamic countries. Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI), a firm run by former high-ranking U.S. officers, is now able to contract with the Federation to develop its military. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns said the U.S. objective is to have the training and equipping done by the time IFOR leaves Bosnia.
Sergeant Frank Struik, a Dutch soldier, testified before the ICTY about the Muslims fleeing Srebrenica who sought refuge at the UNPROFOR compound. Some of the terrified young men were tranquilized by Dutch army doctors, then the men were separated from the women. “You are a very big guy to say to a Serb who is being aggressive, ‘You can’t separate them’ — they blow you away. Well, my safety first. You’re also a prisoner at that moment, you’re in the same position as the Muslims. Then a few moments later, there came a bus and the men were loaded inside and went away.”
One of those taken away is known only as ‘Witness A’, to protect his identity. He testified that he survived the subsequent massacre only because several bodies fell on top of him. As he lay among the corpses, he saw General Ratko Mladic drive up.
A Serb militiaman was convicted of war crimes by a Yugoslav court. Dusko Vuckovic killed 16 Muslim civilians, wounded 20 more, and raped a woman near Zvornik during the war. Vuckovic is the first Serb convicted of war crimes by Yugoslavia.
UN investigators uncovered several more bodies at Cerska, after clearing away a thin layer of soil. There may be several layers of bodies in the mass grave. The team will uncover a wider area of the grave in attempt to recover whole bodies before any remains are removed. The team includes pathologists, forensic anthropologists and investigators from several countries. The Cerska grave is along an embankment dipping from a dirt road towards a brook. The U.N. believes the Muslims were shot on the road before their bodies were shoved over its edge. (An inspection of the site six weeks ago turned up countless spent cartridge cases on the opposite side of the dirt road from the embankment.)
The U.N. reported that pilot programs for Croats and Moslems to return to their native villages and repair their homes are in jeopardy due to intimidation by both factions. (Seventy-five Muslims recently refused to take UNHCR buses from Mostar to Croat-held Stolac to work on their houses because of harassment.)
10 July 96, Wed
Defense Secretary William Perry warned that the next six months in Bosnia will be more dangerous than the first. Civil elements — including resettling refugees, conducting elections and arresting war criminals — will, he said, inevitably cause “turbulence”. Perry said U.S. troops must avoid complacency, remaining on guard, not socializing with the locals and not consuming alcohol. “They’ve been there for six months and they haven’t had a beer. They’re pretty damn unhappy about that,” he said. (And they damn well should be since thier chain-of-command doesn’t apply the same rules to themselves.)
So far, the U.S. has not suffered a combat-related death. Perry said the key to low U.S. casualties was its massive deployment, discouraging any attacks against the troops. “Nobody felt like messing with that force. And they still don’t,” he said. (Unless they’re eight-year-old kids.)
The Finnish forensic team excavating a mass grave in Kravica permanently abandoned its work because of what U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko termed the “obstructive attitude of authorities”. The team waited all last week for verbal approval given by acting Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic to filter down to local police near the site of the bodies. But it did not happen. Though the police did not interfere in the team’s work, they did not guarantee it’s safety. IFOR also refused to provide security for the Finns, although it is protecting the U.N. investigators at Cerska. Despite the problems the Finns were able to collect 25 to 35 bodies before halting their work. DNA analysis to identify the victims will take two to three months.
Meanwhile, work at Cerska continued as UN investigators recovered 15 to 20 more bodies. The number can’t be immediately determined because, in the words of William Haglund, an American and team leader, “The bodies are all akimbo, jumbled up …” The suspected Srebrenica grave sites were pinpointed with the help of survivors’ testimony or U.S. satellite and spy plane photography. The bodies will be transported in refrigerated containers to a morgue in Bosnian government territory where they will undergo full forensic examination.
Croatia claimed it will hand indicted war criminal Zlatko Aleksovski over to the ICTY after a court in Split cleared the way for his extradition. Meanwhile, leading Croat suspect Dario Kordic continues to live unfettered in Zagreb.
12 July 96, Fri
OSCE election supervisor Robert Frowick said Bosnia’s Serbs should be allowed to vote for whoever they want, including Serbian Democratic Party. Frowick was speaking at a press conference after meeting with Republika Srpska Vice-President Biljana Plavsic. Both Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic and Muslim opposition leader Haris Silajdzic said their parties would boycott the election if aKaradzic-led SDS is allowed to participate in the elections. An OSCE spokesman, trying to control the damage, clarified Frowick’s remarks, saying that Frowick still believes that the SDS should appear on the ballot as long as it is lead by Radovan Karadzic. The international community considers the September elections crucial to sustaining the peace initiated by last year’s U.S.-brokered peace accords.
The OSCE placed the blame for last month’s assault on opposition leader Haris Silajdzic on President Alija Izetbegovic’s ruling SDA party. Sliajdzic, a Muslim, used to be a member of Izetbegovic’s cabinet. The OSCE penalized the SDA by disqualifying seven of its candidates from the September elections. The OSCE hopes the punishment sends a clear message to all Bosnian parties and candidates that the international community will not tolerate breaches of the peace and other behaviour intended to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and a top-level delegation of U.S. businessmen wrapped up a whirlwind trade mission to Sarajevo after fog over the city delayed their arrival flight for five hours. Kantor, on a three-day visit to Bosnia and Croatia, announced the signing of a bilateral agreement between Bosnia and the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC). Former secretary Ron Brown and several dozen businessmen and Air Force personnel were killed on a similar mission this spring when their plane crashed near Dubrovnik, Croatia.
U.N. human rights officials criticized IFOR for failing to provide security for the Finnish forensics team that was participating in the Srebrenica investigation. The Finns had to leave Bosnia earlier this week after only one day of work. IFOR insisted it was only supposed to provide general security. Despite such claims, IFOR troops are clearly guarding U.N. invesitgators near Cerska. Under the Dayton Accord, IFOR commanders can, if they want, provide any level of security to humanitarian projects. IFOR said it is re-evaluating its protection policies.
Yugoslavia hiked its ‘departure tax’ 67% on individual citizens and 33% on vehicles. The move is intended to stem the outflow of hard currency. The price of bread was also raised by an average of 30% for “prime-grade” bread. Trade Minister Srdjan Nikolic said bakeries would be required to produce 30% of their output as “second-grade” bread to cushion the effect of the increase on the poor.
13 July 96, Sat
A car bomb destroyed an IPTF police car in the Serb-controlled town of Vlasenica. The blast outside IPTF headquarters damaged two other cars and shattered 30 windows in nearby buildings. There were no injuries. The IPTF said no one had claimed responsibility but, said a spokesman, “I’m sure the Serb police aren’t going to find out who did it.” The U.S. 2nd Brigade headquarters is on the outskirts of the town.
A U.S. foreign service officer was injured in a drive-by shooting on the Sarajevo-Kiseljak road. The women was in a car with her husband, the attacker was in a passing car. British peacekeepers rushed the woman to a hospital. Her injuries are not life-threatening, but she will be evacuated from Bosnia. The area where the attack occured is controlled by Bosnian Croats.
IFOR troops seized two Bosnian Serb self-propelled 155mm howitzers near Han Pijesak after finding them outside an approved storage site. The old Soviet weapons need to be towed away after they were found broken down by the side of the Sokolac-Han Pijesak road. The peacekeepers were verifying an approved transfer of two other 155mm guns to a cantonment site when they came across the “undeclared” 155s.
A similar IFOR mission last week caught two Serb tanks outside their storage site. The tanks were returned to stoarge only after U.S. troops and airpower moved into Han Pijesak. A subsequent U.S. effort to inspect the Han Pijesak headquarters where the tanks were first seen attracted angry Serb civilians who stoned, jostled and cursed the Americans. The mob dispersed only after a Serb officer assured them U.S. troops were not trying to arrest General Ratko Mladic, who lives in the compound.
Note: I saw one Serb tank towing another on that same road this past March. The road is just outside the exclusion zone.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Mickey Kantor and a delegation of top U.S. executives visited the Croatian capital of Zagreb today, on the final leg of their whirlwind mission to boost trade and investment in the Balkans. The U.S. and Croatia signed a bilateral investment treaty and two memoranda of understanding on building two thermo-electric plants in Croatia. The deals are worth a total of $1 billion.
Several Muslim dignitaries addressed another Srebrenica commerative rally. Nasir Oric, the Muslim commander who lost Srebrenica, vowed to recapture the town. “We must and we will go back,” said Oric. “The battle for Bosnia continues with all means until everyone returns to his home.” Ejup Ganic, Vice-President of the Muslim-Croat federation and a member of President Izetbegovic’s cabinet said U.N. Secretary General “Boutros-Ghali is responsible for the crimes”. Fahrudin Salihovic, Srebrenica’s mayor, said “The U.N. handed us over to the butcher”. Between 40,000 and 50,000 Muslims attended the rally in Tuzla, which was organized by the Bosnian government.
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