Morale of Serb Guerrillas Drops
“Morale is very low. You can’t carry out massacres of civilians without having an effect on the morale of your own troops,” Milos Vasic says of the Bosnian Serbs. “There have been unbelievable war crimes committed, and when it’s over it will be these poor, illiterate slobs in Bosnia-Herzegovina who suffer the revenge, not those prodding them for the past five years from Belgrade, where the real war criminals are.”
The Spokesman-Review, p.A8
5 July 1992.
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (LA Times) — Sagging morale, indiscipline and drunkenness have seriously set back Serbian guerrila attempts to divide Sarajevo and conquer most of Bosnia-Herzegovina, military experts have concluded.
Coupled with the reopening of Sarajevo airport, which restores a lifeline to the city’s 300,000 starving holdouts, the rampant unruliness in Serbian ranks could lead to their eventual defeat, according to those monitoring the bloody Bosnian war.
Some observers and veterans of the conflict note that Serbs are still on the offensive in northern Bosnia, making territorial gains and driving out non-Serbs in a campaign they describe as “ethnic cleansing.”
They also contend Belgrade is still supplying arms, money and militias to Bosnian Serbs for the proxy war aimed at building a Greater Serbia.
“The Serbian weakness is more apparent than real,” says a Western diplomat with close contacts in the Bosnian factions. “As far as the real fortunes of war go, I don’t see the Serb forces facing any terrible defeats.”
But Milos Vasic, a Belgrade military analyst, sees recent Serbian losses in eastern Herzegovina and around the capital as evidence of self-destructive behavior among fractious Serbian warlords.
“They’re scared stiff, and they ought to be,” Vasic says of the Bosnian Serbs.
Former Yugoslav federal army officers have been unable to shape up scruffy local guerrilla bands that have been transformed into “a useless rabble” by a routine of drinking and looting, Vasic contends.
A 25-year-old Belgrade Serb recently returned from the chaotic Bosnian front says the attacking forces are sharply divided between those who were trained in the Yugoslav People’s Army and recently deeded over to the Bosnian Serbs’ cause and the plethora of local militias that operate outside of any central command.
“Gen. (Ratko) Mladic is trying very hard to establish order among these divisions,” the reservist said of the federal army commander dispatched to Sarajevo in May and now directing the military assault on the capital. “There is a sharp divide between trained former JNA (federal) soldiers who regard themselves as professionals and the territorial defense forces that are composed of locals who think that they’re Rambo.”
Under international pressure to stop fomenting the war in Bosnia, Belgrade officially cut ties with the Bosnian Serb forces by announcing that all federal troops from Serbia and Montenegro were being withdrawn. But 80,000 federal soldiers said to be from Bosnia-Herzegovina–a figure hotly disputed by the Sarajevo leadership–remained behind to join the Serbian rebels, bringing with them 200 tanks and armored vehicles, hundreds of guns and a three-year supply of ammunition.
Despite their superior weaponry, Serbs rebelling against Bosnia’s internationally recognized independence have been losing ground to newly formed units of Bosniaks and Croats.
Territorial defense forces from the predominantly Croatian region of western Herzegovina have swept Serbs out of their last strongholds along the desolate Neretva River Valley up to within 10 miles of Sarajevo. The Croats then moved southeast to back up forces moving inland from Dubrovnik to push back Serbs who had been harassing the Adriatic resort with shellfire from hilltops only a few miles away.
Military analysts say another flank of Croatian and Bosniak troops is advancing toward the west end of Sarajevo from Visoko, only about 15 miles northwest of the Bosnian capital.
Most of the 7,500 killed since Serbs began their armed rebellion in April were Bosniak civilians. But the analysts say Serbian forces have suffered higher casualties over the past three weeks than during the previous three months.
Radovan Karadzic, leader of the rebel Serbs, conceded to journalists in Sarajevo over the past week that the share of republic territory his forces control has slipped from more than 70% a few weeks ago to as little as 55%.
He blamed the setbacks on his claimed compliance with U.N. conditions for reopening of the airport–a concession the Serbs had to make to avoid threatened Western air strikes to knock out the guns terrorizing Sarajevo.
“We are the only people the international community is denying the right to defend ourselves,” Karadzic complained in a report carried by the SRNA news agency he controls.
Under the U.N.-brokered airport agreement, heavy guns mounted atop the Serbian-controlled hills flanking the long, narrow capital city were to be moved to prearranged locations where U.N. troops could keep an eye on them.
Not all of the weaponry capable of striking the airport has been pulled back, U.N. mission spokesman Fred Eckhart concluded Saturday after a night of fierce artillery fire throughout Sarajevo, including the airport vicinity.
But military observers say that enough of the Serbian firepower was removed from the western end of Sarajevo, where the airport is situated, to create the impression that Karadzic’s forces were attempting to comply with the accord.
One Belgrade-based diplomat argued that Karadzic was benefiting from the move, although it leaves Serbian rebels in the city’s western suburbs vulnerable to retaliatory attacks now that their cover from the hills has been reduced. The U.N. deployment could result in a partitioning of Sarajevo, he said, which is what the Serbs want.
“Karadzic is manipulating the issue of his reversals,” the diplomat said, claiming the withdrawal of certain guns from around Sarajevo “fits in with his plan to go along with the United Nations, open the airport and use the U.N. troops in the same way Serbs in Croatia have maintained control of the territory already conquered there.”
After Serbian rebels in Croatia seized a third of that secessionist republic last year and were fought to a near standstill by winter, Belgrade agreed to the U.N. peacekeeping mission that has deployed 14,000 soldiers in the occupied areas, effectively preventing their recapture by Croatian forces.
Bosnian government officials such as Foreign Minister Haris Silajdzic, who has been traveling the world since the conflict broke out in April to lobby for aid and sympathy, caution the international community that Serbian attacks elsewhere in the republic are passing virtually unnoticed because of the attention focused on breaking the Serbian blockade of Sarajevo.
During a visit to London last week, Silajdzic warned that Serbs were pummeling Bosniak communities in northern Bosnia in an attempt to clear a corridor between Serbia and Serb-held regions of Croatia.
“Since everything is focused on the airport (in Sarajevo) now, there is a major offensive in northern Bosnia,” Silajdzic told the Reuters news agency.
Vasic confirms that Serbian forces continue to bombard northern Bosnia, particularly around Tuzla and Derventa. But he believes they are on the verge of a humiliating defeat in Sarajevo that will further rattle the already disillusioned fighters and send massive waves of Serbian refugees fleeing to Serbia to escape Bosniak and Croatian reprisals.
“Morale is very low. You can’t carry out massacres of civilians without having an effect on the morale of your own troops,” Vasic says of the Bosnian Serbs. “There have been unbelievable war crimes committed, and when it’s over it will be these poor, illiterate slobs in Bosnia-Herzegovina who suffer the revenge, not those prodding them for the past five years from Belgrade, where the real war criminals are.”