Serbian Attack on Srebrenica Kills 123 Bosniak Civilians

The Bosnian Army, whose heavily outgunned forces are defending the enclave, issued a statement late today saying that the Serbian attacks had killed 123 people. It said that the United Nations officers were tallying only those victims taken to the Srebrenica hospital and that many others had died in Muslim villages outside the town that have taken the brunt of Serbian attacks in recent weeks.

John F. Burns
The New York Times
April 13 1993.

SARAJEVO, Bosnia and Herzegovina, April 12 — Serbian nationalist forces unleashed intense artillery attacks on Sarajevo and the besieged Bosniak enclave of Srebrenica today, shattering a fragile cease-fire that had prevailed across most of Bosnia and Herzegovina for two weeks.

The new Serbian attacks began within minutes of 2 P.M., the time set by the United Nations for NATO fighter aircraft to begin patrolling the skies over Bosnia in support of the ban on flights by Serbian aircraft imposed by the United Nations.

[ United States, French and Dutch warplanes flying from bases in northern Italy and from the American carrier Theodore Roosevelt patrolled over Bosnia. A French Mirage jet was reported to have crashed in the Adriatic Sea as it returned from its mission. ]

Warnings by Serb Leaders

The United Nations’ decision to enforce the ban on flights after more than 500 violations by Serbian military aircraft had drawn warnings of retaliation by Serbian nationalist leaders, but they denied that today’s artillery attacks were ordered as a response.

The 65-minute artillery attack on Srebrenica, the enclave in eastern Bosnian where the United Nations military command has tried to protect 60,000 civilians from being overrun by Serbian forces, was said by United Nations military observers in the town to have begun at 2:15 P.M.

It killed at least 56 civilians, including 15 children, and wounded 90 people, 73 of them seriously, according to United Nations officers who visited the town’s hospital after the attack. [The number of child victims was later confirmed to be much higher. This was the initial report only.]

123 Killed, Army Says

Louis Gentille, a United Nations relief official who radioed reports of the attack to United Nations headquarters in Sarajevo, said the toll was the worst of any day since the Serbian shelling of Srebrenica began seven months ago.

The Bosnian Army, whose heavily outgunned forces are defending the enclave, issued a statement late today saying that the Serbian attacks had killed 123 people. It said that the United Nations officers were tallying only those victims taken to the Srebrenica hospital and that many others had died in Muslim villages outside the town that have taken the brunt of Serbian attacks in recent weeks.

The Serbian attacks on Sarajevo and Srebrenica appeared to have been part of a wider offensive across this former Yugoslav republic. According to Bosnian Army reports, Bihac in the northwest was pounded by fire from more than 100 Serbian tanks and Olovo and Kladanj in north-central Bosnia were also bombarded.

This evening, Lieut. Gen. Lars-Eric Wahlgren, the Swedish officer who is overall commander of United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia, was said by a United Nations spokesman to be meeting with Gen. Philippe Morillon, the French commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia, at General Morillon’s villa in Sarajevo, to discuss what steps to take in light of the collapse of the cease-fire.

Spring Offensive Feared

The possibility of a major spring offensive by Serbian forces against Sarajevo, Srebrenica and other Bosniak strongholds has worried United Nations officials here, particularly since President Clinton and other senior American officials began saying in recent weeks that they were leaning against any United States military intervention to curb the Serbian attacks.

Privately, United Nations officials have discounted the decision to begin enforcing the no-flight zone, saying that the fighting ability of the Serbian forces would be largely unaffected.

“The Serbs have worried about only one thing, American military intervention,” a senior United Nations official said before today’s Serbian attacks became known. “Once they are sure the Americans aren’t coming, there will be nothing to stop them getting on with their ‘ethnic cleansing.’ “

In Sarajevo today, hundreds of shells pounded civilian districts, creating terror among people who had been in the streets in the largest numbers in months. Hospitals reported dozens of casualties, including several requiring amputations, and said that at least 10 people had been killed.

The attacks began just as Gen. Ratko Mladic, the Serbian nationalist military commander in Bosnia, concluded a meeting with United Nations generals at Sarajevo Airport that had been boycotted by the officer who commands the Bosnian Government forces defending Sarajevo, Srebrenica and other predominantly Bosniak cities and towns.

Forces Blameless, Serb Says

The Bosnian military chief, Maj. Sefer Halilovic, had said on Sunday that he would not meet with the Serbian commander unless Serbian forces halted all attacks on Srebrenica for at least 24 hours.

General Mladic, a 51-year-old veteran of the Yugoslav Army who has commanded Serbian nationalist forces through nearly a year of “ethnic cleansing” offensives against Bosniaks, told the United Nations generals that his forces were blameless in the Srebrenica fighting.

A United Nations military spokesman said the Serbian commander responded to appeals by General Wahlgren for a halt to the attacks by saying that the Serbian forces at Srebrenica were “only defending Serbs and Serbian land.” According to the 1991 Bosnian census, Bosniaks accounted for 70 percent and Serbs 30 percent of the 70,250 people living in Srebrenica and in neighboring Bratunac, which has been used as headquarters for the Serbian siege of Srebrenica.

A Massacre Is Charged

The proportion of Bosniaks to Serbs was similar throughout most of eastern Bosnia before Serbian forces, seeking to create what they have described as “ethnically pure” Serbian territories in Bosnia that could be annexed to Serbia, began their attacks last April.

The Serbian claim that the Srebrenica attacks are defensive has been linked in recent weeks to charges that Bosnian troops committed a “massacre” of Serbian civilians in the village of Kamenici, between Bratunac and Srebrenica, in February, just as Serbian attacks on Srebrenica intensified. But Western reporters who were taken to Kamenici shortly after the supposed Bosnian attack said that the 30 [Serb] bodies they were shown in a common grave were mostly of men in military uniforms and that the village, mainly Muslim, had been overrun by Serbian troops who were setting fire to Bosniak homes in the village during the reporters’ visit.

At the meeting at Sarajevo Airport, General Mladic again refused the United Nations’ demand that an infantry company of 150 Canadian soldiers serving with the United Nations force be allowed to cross Serbian lines and join the detachment of 14 soldiers currently stationed in Srebrenica. The United Nations demand was put to the Serbian forces more than a week ago in a formal statement by the Security Council, but a United Nations spokesman said that General Mladic had rejected it today, saying that the request had “come too late.”

According to the United Nations spokesman, General Mladic added, “They should have gone earlier, when they could have saved Serbian lives.”

Mr. Gentille, the United Nations relief official who radioed reports of the Srebrenica attack to United Nations headquarters in Sarajevo throughout the afternoon and evening, described scenes of desperation and panic after the shelling. Mr. Gentille, who is a Canadian, said that 14 of those [Bosniak victims] killed, including several children, had been among refugees who were encamped around the town’s football field.

Balkan Update: Warplanes from the United States, France, and the Netherlands began their patrol over Bosnia and Herzegovina yesterday to enforce a United Nations ban on unauthorized flights. American planes flew from an airbase at Aviano, Italy, and from the American carrier Theodore Roosevelt, in the central Adriatic. French planes flew from Cervia, Italy, and Dutch planes from Villafranca di Verona.

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