Serbs kill at least 37 in the second Sarajevo massacre
The Spokesman Review
29 August 1995.
U.S. blames Bosnian Serbs and urges NATO, U.N. military action
By Roger Cohen
Two shells slammed into the central Sarajevo market area today, killing at least 37 people and wounding 80 in the most devastating single attack on the Bosnian capital since a similar one 18 months ago led NATO to vow that the city would be protected.
Limbs and flesh were splattered on storefronts, and bodies fell to pieces as they were lifted into cars. After 40 months of Serbian siege and bombardment, the scene was familiar, but the horrified frenzy among an exhausted population was still intense.
The United States blamed the Bosnian Serbs for the attack, and United Nations officials in Sarajevo suggested that the 120-millimeter mortar that had caused most of the damage had been fired from Serbian positions south of the capital.
In Washington, a senior Administration official said the United States had urged the United Nations and NATO to respond militarily. The official said two options being looked at were a NATO air strike or an artillery response from 155-millimeter guns, with a 15-mile range, near Sarajevo controlled by the new rapid-reaction force.
“There may be mitigating factors, like the bad weather, that delay a response,” the official said. “Our position is you have to be true to your commitments, and we made commitments to help defend these enclaves.” But late today it was unclear what measures were actually planned.
The shells landed less than 100 yards from the open-air Markale marketplace, where 68 people were killed and more than 200 wounded by a mortar attack on Feb. 5, 1994. The carnage today, outside a nearby covered market, demonstrated how Western attempts to end the war have gone around in circles, drifting from threats to new peace proposals as the killing has continued.
After the markeplace attack last year, NATO succeeded in stopping the Serbian bombardment for about a year by threatening air strikes on guns near the city. But when the attacks were resumed this summer, there was no retaliation.
The attack today poses delicate problems for the Western alliance, which fears a spiral of tension and reprisals that could derail the new American peace initiative.
Richard C. Holbrooke, the Clinton Administration’s chief negotiator on the Balkans, arrived in Paris today to discuss the American peace plan and vowed to press on despite the shelling.
Shortly after the attack, Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs, made an unusually conciliatory statement about the American peace proposals.
“As far as we know,” he said, “the American initiative takes account of the minimum interests of the Serbian side, and I hope that our parliament will accept this offer.”
Serbian officials said the statement had followed a meeting between Mr. Karadzic and the Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, in Belgrade late last week. Mr. Milosevic has for several months been pressing the Bosnian Serbs to pursue their interests through diplomacy rather than war.
Earlier this month, after watching as the Serbs overran the designated “safe areas” of Srebrenica and Zepa, NATO reaffirmed its commitment to protect Sarajevo and three other vulnerable, mainly Muslim cities: Gorazde, Tuzla and Bihac. It also suggested that any future air strikes would be more sweeping than the pinprick bombings previously carried out in Bosnia.
But the Bosnian war has been marked by forceful declarations from Western govenments that have been followed by hesitation and confusion in the face of attacks like the shelling today.
The shelling submerged the central Kosevo Hospital in a blood-soaked wave of dead and dying. Later the hospital itself was hit, wounding two patients.
President Jacques Chirac of France, who will meet President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia on Tuesday, said he would propose the demilitarization of Sarajevo as a means to insure that such attacks do not occur again.
“Only such a demilitarization would guarantee that the Bosnian capital is not subject to a renewal of today’s drama,” said Catherine Colonna, the President’s spokeswoman.
But a demilitarization of Sarajevo appears highly unlikely in that the city is the capital of the Bosnian state, a stronghold of the Bosnian Army and a symbol — albeit beleaguered — of Bosnian sovereignty. The Muslim-led Government has no inclination to disband its forces in the capital.
The Serbs, as they have in the past, suggested that the Bosnian Government forces had attacked their own civilian population today to arouse international sympathy and drag NATO into the war. “This is a classic act of Islamic terrorism,” said Miroslav Toholj, a Bosnian Serb official.
The United Nations said the shell that had caused most of the deaths had been fired from the south, where the Serbs and the Government forces both have positions. But Alexander Ivanko, a United Nations spokesman, said, “Most of the positions located in the south are Bosnian Serb positions.”
The Bosnian Serbs, who made up a third of Bosnia’s prewar population and are fighting for their own state in Bosnia, have regularly bombarded civilians during the war. But they have blamed the most devastating shelling incidents — including one in Tuzla in May in which 70 people died — on Muslims who they have said are prepared to kill their own people to secure Western military support for their war effort.
Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Prime Minister, responded to the attack with outrage, calling for NATO air strikes and an end to any peace negotiations until the alliance’s real readiness to protect the Bosnian capital was clarified.
“The Government has decided to propose to the Presidency that it consider the suspension of further activity in the peace process until the obligations and role of NATO are clarified,” Mr. Silajdzic said.
Much of the Western diplomatic and military activity in the last three months has been devoted to getting United Nations soldiers out of Bosnian Serb territory to make the threat of NATO air strikes more credible by removing potential hostages.
But about 90 United Nations troops are still in the eastern Muslim enclave of Gorazde, which is surrounded by the Serbs. The troops are due to leave this week.
President Izetbegovic, whose relations with Mr. Silajdzic have been strained, decided to pursue a visit to Paris despite the attack. He arrived here today, several hours late, for talks with Mr. Holbrooke.
But the Bosnian President’s initial tone was more bellicose than compromising. He said his Government had decided “to use all means” to put an end to the Serbian onslaught.
His comments appeared to echo remarks by Gen. Rasim Delic, the commander of the Bosnian Army, who declared today that the new American peace proposal was “without a head and without a tail,” adding, “We have only one direction, and that is to continue fighting.”
General Delic, whose offensive earlier this summer aimed at lifting the Serbian siege of Sarajevo failed, has been a persistent proponent of a long war aimed at “liberating” all Bosnian territory.
The American plan is largely an endorsement of the situation on the ground as it stands after more than four years of fighting in the former Yugoslavia, offering both Croatia and Serbia effective control of territory beyond their borders.
But it tries to force the Serbs to give up some of the land they hold in Bosnia, and offers financial and other blandishments to the Bosnian Government if it will accept peace.
Because Serbia and Croatia, the major powers in the former Yugoslavia, have now settled many of their differences on the battlefield, some small chance to forge a grim peace appears to exist. But the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Government are still far apart, and all of the leaders in the region derive some benefits from a low-level war that cements their hold on power and privilege.
U.N. Orders Its Troops to Act
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 28 (Reuters) — Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali today ordered United Nations military commanders to take unspecified action against those responsible for the civilian carnage in Sarajevo.
In a statement, Mr. Boutros-Ghali condemned “unreservedly the shelling of Sarajevo today which has resulted in the tragic deaths of more than 30 civilians and injured large numbers of other innocent people.”
He said he had instructed military commanders “to investigate this attack immediately and to take appropriate action without delay.”
Expressing “outrage that such an attack has occurred in an area where there is no military target,” he said, “The continued and senseless shedding of blood in Bosnia and Herzegovina is totally unacceptable.”
His spokesman, Joe Sills, said a response to the shelling would be determined by Gen. Bernard Janvier, overall commander of United Nations forces in the Balkans, and Gen. Rupert Smith, commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia.
“That’s as far as I can go,” Mr. Sills said. “I cannot speculate on what action will be taken or what the timing will be. But I want to underline that no options will be ruled out.”