Friday, July 13, 2007

July 13

The disintegration of Yugoslavia during the 1990s spurred unthinkable degrees of violence, as religious and ethnic rivalries drove nearly everyone to madness. Arguably the worst of the bloodshed occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (often referred to as “Bosnian Muslims”) struggled for territory and their own lives over the course of the first half of the decade.

Of particular importance in the Bosnian War were the eastern regions of the country, which bordered on the new nation of Serbia. Led by certifiable lunatics who were determined to depopulate those areas of all non-Serbian peoples, the army of the Republica Srpska -- one of the two political regions with Bosnia -- worked with Serb paramilitaries and managed by 1993 to isolate three small Bosniak enclaves surrounding the towns of Gorazde, Zepa, and Srebrenica. Terrified of what might come, civilians fled these regions en masse; although the United Nations declared Srebrenica to be a “safe area” in April 1993, the Serbian forces gradually strangled it, cutting off relief convoys delivering food, drinking water and fuel. United Nations forces were helpless to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

In March 1995, Republika Srpska president Radovan Karadzic issued an order known as “Directive 7,” which coldly ordered the his army (the VRS) to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica.” By July, VRS forces led by Ratko Mladic moved into Srbrenica. As the “safe area” disintegrated, tens of thousands of Bosniaks fled their villages. More than 10,000 others -- mostly men -- attempted to flee Srebrenica by forming a column and marching through the hills toward Tuzla. Two thirds of these refugees never made it to safety, having been killed, captured or trapped behind Serbian lines.

Others sought refuge at the UN compound in Potocari, where lightly armed Dutch troops were stationed. Hasan Nuhanovic, a Bosniak who worked as a UN translator,
Some of them were allowed to come inside. But most of them were actually forced to remain outside the U.N. base. That was a decision of the Dutch battalion. They closed the gate. They sealed a hole in the fence. So about 5,000 or 6,000 people were inside the base, and about 20,000 people were outside the base. If you were inside the base, you were safe because the Serbs did not do anything bad to the people inside the base. I heard about killings happening outside the base. I heard screams and shots. I was afraid, of course, for my family, my parents and my brother -- if they stepped outside the base, they were going to be killed. So I tried to keep them inside the base.
Unable and unwilling to accommodate all the refugees, the Dutch watched as Bosniaks -- lacking adequate food and water and practically melting in the heat -- camped in the fields, warehouses and factories surrounding Potocari. Eventually, the Dutch troops forced the Bosniak refugees to leave the UN base.

On 13 July 1995, Srebrenica Genocide began in earnest as Directive 7 was pushed to its logical conclusion. Captured Bosniaks, as well as those cowering in Potocari, were herded by the VRS and paramilitaries from neighboring Serbia onto trucks and buses. Driven to scattered, isolated locations, the prisoners were summarily shot and their bodies were dumped into mass graves. Others, including as many as 1500 men being held at in the town of Kravica, were killed in warehouses, schools and gymnasia.

Within 10 days, as many as 10,000 Bosniaks perished. To date, fewer than 4000 bodies have been recovered. Although numerous convictions have been handed down by an international war crimes tribunal, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic remain at large.