Bosnian Town Hails U.N. Soldiers
By Robert H. Reid
Record-Journal, p.Front, 4.
19 April 1993.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — U.N. Peacekeepers entered Srebrenica on Sunday to a hero’s welcome, hours after the town’s defenders signed a truce that permits aid and evacuations but amounts to a virtual surrender of the strategic Bosniak town.
Many of Srebrenica’s fighters resented the agreement, made after a relentless Serb siege, and it was unclear whether the ceasefire would last. Scores of truces in the Bosnian fighting have collapsed over the past year.
It would be the Bosnian government’s biggest capitulation in the yearlong war and underlines the weak position of the outgunned government forces against the Serbs and Croats who have seized most of Bosnia.
Still, Alija Izetbegovic, president of the Bosniak-led government, told Sarajevo radio the peacekeepers’ arrival was cause for hope for civilians and Bosniak soldiers.
“It seems that a turning point has been reached which might, despite everything, succeed in saving the town,” Izetbegovic said at Sarajevo’s airport, the radio reported.
Crowds mobbed the peacaekeepers’ 22 armored personnel carriers and 19 trucks, and hugged and kissed the 130 Canadian soldiers, ham radio reports said.
French and British helicopters then began ferrying sick and wounded to Tuzla, under an agreement permitting ariborne evacuation of the 500 most desperate cases before an overland evacuation starts for all those who want to leave the town.
U.N. officials said 133 people were evacuated by nightfall Sunday, and the helicopters would continue their mission over the next few days.
Tuzla, 45 miles northwest of Srebrenica, is already overflowing with an estimated 60,000 refugees from the Serb drive in easter Bosnia. There are up to 60,000 more in Srebrenica.
Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader, pledged to honor terms of the Srebrenica agreement. But in an irate reaction to the U.N. Security Council’s decision Saturday to impose new sanctions on Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia, he threatened to boycott further U.N.-sponsored peace talks.
One of the mediators, Britain’s Lord Owen, said Sunday he believes sanctions alone are not sufficient to stop the Serbs and reiterated his suggestion that military intervention may be necessary.
Croatia’s president Franjo Tudjman, during a U.S. tour, called for air strikes against the Serbs, saying that the virtual surrender of Srebrenica showed the ineffectiveness of U.N. sanctions.
U.S., German and French military planes on Sunday airdropped about 60 tons of food and medical supplies over Srebrenica. The airdrop has been concentrating on that area in recent days.
In other developments:
Prime Minister John Major and President Clinton agreed Sunday in a telephone conversation that tightened sanctions against Yugoslavia must be imposed rapidly and loopholes be closed.
A mortar round killed four Sarajevo residents enjoying the sping sun.
French Gen. Philippe Morrillon, head of the U.N. peacekeeping forces in Bosnia, will not be brought home as had been reported last week, said France’s Prime Minister Edouard Balladur.
Although Morillon won wide respect by spending three weeks in Srebrenica as a human shield for its civilians, U.N. officials and his French superiors are said to be frustrated that he often does not consult them. [note: Morillon was also pro-Serb oriented]
Under the cease-fire reached early Sunday, both sides are to hold their positions and keep all supporting guns, rockets and artillery in place.
Within 72 hours, the Srebrenica area is to be completely demilitarized [Serbs also need to withdraw their weapons around Srebrenica], U.N. peacekeepers’ spokesman Barry Frewer said. That could be accomplished either by pulling out weapons from the area or turning them over to the peacekeepers.
The Serbs were expected to redeploy outside the Srebrenica zone. The Bosniaks, wiith nowhere to go, seemed to have no choice but to hand over their arms. After that, U.N. troops would be responsible for the area’s security.
But some of Srebrenica’s defenders were ready to resist the demilitarization.
“There’s not way … that we are going to surrender our weapons,” declared Ibrahim Becirovic, a Srebrenica official, via ham radio. “Let the Serbs first withdraw, and then we will surrender our weapons.”
Karadzic pledged no hamr would come to Srebrenica’s defenders if they laid down their arms.
Others were doubtful, including Lord Owen.
“They’ll let out young children, elderly people, women. They’ll all come out easily,” he told the British Broadcasting Corp. “The danger will be over males of fighting age,” he said.
Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia in February 1992.. Serbs fighting the secession have seized about 70 percent of the country, and more than 134,000 people have been killed or are missing.
Serbs are driving for control of eastern Bosnia to connect the region with adjacent Serbia and other Serb-held areas of Bosnia and Croatia and create a “Greater Serbia.” Only two other Bosniak enclaves, Gorazde and Zepa, remain in eastern Bosnia.