Whatever semblance of order the United Nations had brought to Sarajevo disintegrated in the last week of May. Serb soldiers marched into a UN-guarded compound and rode off with confiscated tanks and heavy artillery that were off-limits under the latest cease-fire. In protest, NATO warplanes bombed a Serb ammunition depot near Pale.
The Serb retaliation was pitiless and highly effective. They shelled a strip of outdoor cafés in the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla, killing seventy-one people, mostly teenagers. (Unlike the February 5, 1994, market bombing in Sarajevo, nobody bothered to deny it. Serb commander Ratko Mladić boasted that the shelling was punishment for the NATO air strikes.)
Across Bosnia, the Serbs captured hundreds of UN peace-keepers as a deterrent to further air strikes. Pale television flaunted the Serbs’ captives, broadcasting footage of the peace-keepers shackled to poles and bridges. On June 2, a U.S. F-16 flying above the Bosnian Serb stronghold of Banja Luka was shot down and disappeared.
“They are the UN Protection Forces, but they cannot even protect themselves,” said Bosnian prime minister Haris Silajdžić.
It was almost unbelievable. The Republika Srpska, with a population of 800,000—about the size of Greater Pittsburgh—had brought the combined powers of the United Nations and NATO to their knees.
The roads northwest of Sarajevo that the United Nations had been using for land convoys were now shut down. The Serbs stepped up their attacks on the Mount Igman Road, opening fire with anti-aircraft guns on the armored cars of journalists and aid workers. With the siege tightening, there was no flour or sugar for sale anywhere in Sarajevo.
I ran into Suada’s sister-in-law, Aida, who was desperately looking for powdered milk. She had had a baby in May and her breast milk had dried up from poor nutrition. The monthly distribution of humanitarian aid had dwindled to one cup of oil and half a pound of dried peas, beans, and rice per person.
“Believe me. The person who is eating only that humanitarian aid is dead already,” declared Jela.
The sense of abandonment was acute. “The whole world is protesting three hundred UN peacekeepers in chains while we, an entire nation, have been in chains for three years,” complained Esad Taljanović.
26 December 2014
Serbs Stymie UN, NATO, NGOs, 1994
From Logavina Street, by Barbara Demick (Spiegel & Grau, 2012), Kindle Loc. 2413-2434: