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Source: Bosnia Relief Watch No. 39, Compiled by Refugees International, August 3, 1995

Bosnia Relief Watch No. 39
Compiled by Refugees International
August 3, 1995

Will NATO Protect the Safe Areas?

A Refugees International delegation visited Bosnia from July 18 to July 31 to interview refugees fleeing Srebrenica and Zepa.

Based on our observations and discussions with international agencies and refugees, our key findings and recommendations follow:

Srebrenica: The Bosnian Serbs have perpetrated a major human rights disaster on the 42,000 residents of Srebrenica. We heard eye-witness accounts of executions and mutilations. We learned of girls and women taken away and presumably raped. We saw a camp of over 6,000 refugees from Srebrenica where there were almost no men of fighting age, fifteen to fifty years old. We heard accounts from the men who managed to survive the death march out of Srebrenica walking for days through repeated Serbian ambushes and shelling. We heard pleas from them to aid the weaker among them who succumbed to fatigue en route.

Recommendation: The U.S. and NATO must press for expedited International Red Cross access to all the men who have been imprisoned and must obtain a comprehensive accounting of the number of missing.

Zepa: There are still pockets of Bosnians resisting in Zepa. These forces are afraid to surrender to the Serbs given what happened in Srebrenica and because of the alleged execution of their commander when he surrendered to the Bosnian Serbs. The civilians who have fled Zepa are convinced that their men, both soldiers and civilians, will be hunted down and killed by the Bosnian Serbs, unless an agreement for safe passage can be worked out.

Recommendation: Arrange a cease-fire in Zepa to permit safe evacuation of remaining Bosnian soldiers and civilians with provisions to ensure that the evacuated soldiers are demobilized (i.e. do not rejoin the war). The U.S. should disseminate intelligence about the fate of those holding out in Zepa and push the UN or other appropriate international agency to broker the Zepa safe passage. As with those captured in Srebrenica, ICRC should be given immediate access to the detainees.

Remaining "safe areas": NATO has pledged to defend Gorazde against Serbian attack. On August 1 NATO expanded this to provide for protection of all remaining safe areas. However, it appears now that the Bosnian Serbs are gathering forces near Sarajevo for a possible assault on the city, the capture of the airport, or cutting the city's only land line to the outside world.

(1) The U.S. should take all steps necessary to ensure that the Bosnian Serbs understand the defense of safe areas to be a serious commitment. In the case of Gorazde, General Mladic was summonedto Belgrade and warned not to move on Gorazde; a similarly pointed warning is needed to cover the other safe areas.
(2) The Bosnian Serbs are also holding up convoys of critically needed humanitarian relief to the safe areas. Although the Rapid Reaction Force is now securing Mt.Igman Road to Sarajevo, other more direct and usable routes to Sarajevo and the other safe areas should also be re-opened, including the Sarajevo airport, which has served as the principal lifeline of the capital during the war.

The fall of Srebrenica and Zepa to Bosnian Serb forces and the atrocities perpetrated on their people has pushed NATO to draw the line at Gorazde. NATO now appears to be widening this commitment to other surviving safe areas. Let us build on this foothold as the last chance to save Bosnia from total destruction and to spare the world a wider Balkan war.

Commentary: The Safe Areas: "Born to Lose"?
As I arrived in Tuzla, the driver turned to welcome me to his hometown, "the best place in the former Yugoslavia," where Serbs and Croats still reside harmoniously with the Moslem majority, despite over three years of siege by the Bosnian Serbs.

Tuzla is also a UN "safe area", although that didn't stop the Serbian shell which killed 75 and wounded over 120 just a few weeks ago. The people here are struck by the fact that the shell generated almost no news or interest in the outside world. But then, they are accustomed to making it on their own. It is not for nothing that the official symbol of Tuzla is the goat -- bright, feisty and stubborn, just like its denizens.

Following the killer shell, outdoor establishments are not allowed in Tuzla, but on a sweltering early evening before the 9 p.m. curfew, I sat with friends along the outside wall of a tree-shaded little cafe. At the next table were two blondes, as elegant as any two women at any other European cafe. But the dusk curfew curtain fell on us and the rest of the city all too quickly. As we left, Ray Charles was singing"Born to Lose" -- especially appropriate if you happen to live in a UN "safe area."

Srebrenica, which fell recently to the murderous Bosnian Serb forces, was also a UN safe area. It was to Tuzla that the survivors of Srebrenica came, adding to the 200,000 refugees already sheltering in the region. The Srebrenica people are in tents strung along the airfield outside of town.

They tell of at least 3,000 boys and men killed as they fought their way out of Srebrenica; some say many more. But it is theindividual stories that stick in your mind. Stories of boys and men with their throats slit or noses or tongues cut out and left to die; a man who pulled the plug on his grenade and held it to his chest to avoid falling into Serb hands; another who hung himself by his belt, like the young woman who did so after being raped. One horrific, eye-witness account from an escaping soldier describes a civilian on whose face the Serbs carved a cross. This individual was crawling, unable to see because his eyes were hanging out of their sockets.

So at the Tuzla airfield, the women of Srebrenica wait in desperation for news of the missing. The International Committee of the Red Cross still does not have access to these men. Meanwhile, the only thing the women can do is to wail for their loved ones; you can hear them among the low tents. According to the refugees, there are perhaps several hundred Bosnian civilians and soldiers who fled from Srebrenica and are still trapped behind Serb lines, too weak to continue. There have been some Bosnian government attempts to lead these survivors out before they die of dehydration or from the continuing Serbian shelling.Unfortunately no such rescue is in sight either from the Bosnian government or UN forces. The wailing women in the refugee camps are the only ones who seem to care.

With the fall of Srebrenica, the people of greater Tuzla have no illusions about the international will to protect them or other civilians in Bosnia who are under attack, but they are a little tired of the empty rhetoric flourished in world capitals, most recently at the London conference a few weeks ago.

The people of Srebrenica and Tuzla remember, although world leaders apparently do not, that two years ago UN commanding General Philip Morillon went to Srebrenica during a Serb onslaught and personally pledged to protect the town's inhabitants. This was followed by the UN Security Council resolutions declaring the safe areas. For Srebrenica, the resolutions have had as much meaning as Munich and other agreements signed with Hitler.

This history of betrayal does not occupy some UN officials I have met who instead prefer to grumble that the Bosnian government has been slow to provide shelter for the Srebrenica survivors.

There is a glimmer of hope in the London conference's agreement to draw the line at Gorazde, the last remaining and biggest of the surrounded eastern enclaves which could become the Warsaw Ghetto of the Balkans. The much smaller Zepa has now fallen after valiantly resisting the Bosnian Serb forces. Meanwhile the Bihac safe area is under increasingly fierce attack. The August 1 NATO decision to protect all safe areas with air power is an important step forward.

The way to draw the line with the Bosnian Serbs is to remove their capacity to continue to commit crimes against humanity. They should bewarned that unless artillery and ground attacks against civilians in Bosnia cease immediately, NATO air strikes will knock out the capabilityof the Bosnian Serbs to wage war against civilians and the UN.

After years of appeasement, we need to ensure that the Bosnian Serbs understand the firmness of NATO's purpose -- so the message must be clear and tough and sustained.

Or we must tell the people of Tuzla, Gorazde and Sarajevo that they are on their own. If we are backing out on the agreement to defendthem, they are at least entitled to choose safe evacuation. This would be a mammoth humanitarian rescue operation. Faced with that obligation, maybe our military and political leaders will decide it is preferable to finally deter the Bosnian Serbs.

Lionel A. Rosenblatt, president of Refugees International, has traveledto Bosnia frequently in the last few years.

Bosnia Relief Watch is compiled by Refugees International. If you wouldlike to be added to our distribution list or for more information,contact: Refugees International,
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