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You Are Here: Home » Dossiers and more » Was the arrest of Rodovan Karadzic last week enough to heal the suffering in Bosnia?

CSMS Magazine Staff WritersThe announcement last week of the capture of Radovan Karadzic, the man the media and most people in Bosnia blame for the bloody siege which pinned down the city of Sarajevo for 44 months, was indeed a major event. Rodovan Karadzic and his second in command, General Ratco Mladic, ruled Serb-controlled Bosnia and imposed a military blockade on Sarajevo from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996. It was the longest siege on a city in modern warfare. When it was over, more than 10,000 people were killed.    At the heart of the war was the illusory dream of a creating a greater Serbia that would have stretched from the Danube River to its east and the Adriatic Sea to its west.  The idea was spearheaded by authorities in Belgrade who had already conceded Slovenia and Croatia to the north after the Yugoslav army was unable to keep them into fold. Headed by Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Serbia, the regime in Belgrade was ready to draw a line in the sand in more ethnically diverse Bosnia-Herzegovina.      Serb militias backed by newly repositioned Yougoslav army in Bosnia gave the Serbs an early military advantage, which they effectively exploited to solidify their hold in areas they controlled at the start of the war. Although, the Bosnian Serbs never really managed to establish effective control over Sarajevo, they did manage, however, to seize control of the Serb populated area of the city right from the start and held it to the very end, creating a de facto partition while renaming Serb-controlled Sarajevo, New Sarajevo. The entire Eastern Bosnia was and still is Serbian territory, including the hills surrounding Sarajevo. The central and northeast Bosnia was and also still is Serb land in which they made Banja Luka, Bosnia’s second largest city in Central Bosnia, their capital.    Every area they controlled was ethnically cleansed, making ethnic cleansing the prime accomplishment for achieving autonomist enclaves. As the war dragged on, both the Croats and the Muslim Bosniaks have entered the ethnic cleansing game, forcing thousands of Serbs to flee their homes from areas under their control.  The major flash points      If the Serbs were to blame for triggering the vicious war, they were by no means the only ones to blame for all the atrocities that took place during the 4-year bloody war. Atrocities were committed by all players. Of course the siege of Sarajevo, the ethnic cleansing of communities all over Bosnia, and the prison camps for “cleansed” Bosniaks who survived these purges, including the gruesome massacre of innocent civilians in Srebrenica, the gritty, Muslim-dominated mining town in eastern Bosnia, were some of the flash points that pinned down negotiations to ending the war for months.   Srebrenica in particular was the main drive behind stalling negotiations. The town was theoretically protected by United Nations peacekeepers, but was relentlessly bombarded and then invaded by Bosnian Serb forces. Muslim women and children were packed on to buses and sent to safety, but their husbands, nearly 8,000 of them, were rounded up and executed under the watchful eye of General Ratco Mladic, who is still in hiding.    At the end of the war, the International Commission for Missing Persons was given the task of exhuming the victims of Srebrenica. Thousands of families were given something to bury and a name to put on a gravestone. To this day, Srebrenica remains ethnically cleansed, although the town’s Mayor, Abduraham Malkic, is Muslim.   The country itself also was the victim of proxy politic, becoming the battleground between the United States supporting the Croats/Muslims coalition and Russia supporting their historical friends, the Serbs. Today, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a multi-ethnic state in name only. The truth is that the idea of securing ethnic autonomy as a temporary measure to ending the war in Dayton, Ohio remains firmly entrenched. The Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the war in 1996, has sanctified that reality by effectively recognizing the Republika Srpska on the one hand, the ethnic Serbian entity (a state within a state), and the Muslim-Croat Federation on the other.The ethnic cleansing in Krajina and the international hypocrisy If Serbs, Muslims and Croats were ethnically cleansing each other in Bosnia, in Croatia, the story was totally different. The overnight uprooting of 200,000 Serbs in Krajina marked the ugliest and the ultimate chapter in the disintegration of Yugoslavia. In an operation that was notoriously called Operation Storm, Croatia with the full support of Germany and the United States moved against a Serb enclave in a region called Krajina, in western Croatia. The aim was to retake Krajina, which had been under the control of Serbs separatists since 1991.   A coalition of Croatian Army Forces and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina launched what was described as the largest European land offensive since World War II. The operation began shortly before dawn on August 4, 1995 and ended with a complete victory for the Croatian forces four days later. It was said that the entire East German Army arsenal was turned over to the Croatian forces for the operation, and according to several news sources, these forces had been trained by a U.S.-based firm called Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), which provides both training and senior staff services. Its engagement was approved by the U.S. government, something former President Bill Clinton acknowledged in his memoirs when he wrote that he believed the Serbs could only be brought to the negotiating table if they sustained major losses on the ground.   This assertion was also confirmed by former US peace negotiator Richard Holbrooke. “ [I] realized how much the Croatian offensive in the Krajina profoundly changed the nature of the Balkan game and thus this diplomatic offensive.” Retired four-star General Wesley Clark, Director, Strategic Plans and Policy (J5) for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and later Supreme Allied Commander in Europe also recognized the operation and called it a turning point.    United Nations estimates put the number between 150,000 to 200,000 Serbs who fled their homes ahead of approaching Croat forces to seek refuge in Serb-held parts of Bosnia and Serbia proper. They were never allowed to return. The European Union Special Envoy to the Former Yugoslavia Carl Bildt called it on Aug. 7, 1995, “the most efficient ethnic cleansing we’ve seen in the Balkans.”     Hundreds and perhaps thousands of Serbs were slaughtered by victorious Croat forces, and the town of Knin, which was the official capital of the Serb “republic of Krajina”, became a huge graveyard. The Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the charges, saying they were simply “unfounded.” German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, in a statement, expressed “regret” about the offensive.  What a hypocrisy! Croatia was a historical ally to Nazi Germany, and it was under this basis that Germany justified its full backing of the Croatian forces.  This was to the shocking of many who thought Germany had previously renounced its shameful Nazi past.      The Clinton Administration then called for “restraint,” but said the military operation had been “provoked initially by a Krajina Serb attack on the Muslim enclave of Bihaæ, commonly called the Bihaæ pocket in the far northwestern Bosnia near the border with Croatia inhabited by Muslims surrounded by hostile forces in both Croatia and in Serb dominated Bosnia.    To the cry of Amnesty International and several Human Right organizations, three Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina, Ivan Cermak and Mladen Markac, accused to have been the prime planners and executioners of Operation Storm, were indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) in charge of prosecuting  war crimes in the former Yougoslavia and are on trial in the Hague on charges of operating a joint criminal enterprise for the purpose of permanently removing the Serb population from the Krajina by force and of crimes against humanity.   According to the Croatian Helsinki Committee, 677 Serb civilians were killed in the operation. Serbian sources put the number at 2500. The ICTY Chief Prosecutor alleges that the Croatian forces operated in “‘arson squads’ using inflammable fuels, incendiary bullets and explosives… [leaving] some towns and numerous villages completely destroyed. The intention of this campaign, according to the Prosecutor, was to make it impossible for the Krajina Serb population to return.    Last June, during the prosecution of Ante Gotovina at The Hague, Canadian general Andrew Leslie, claimed between 10,000 and 25,000 civilians died in the operation.  Nothing has changed since the peace agreement that ended the war was signed in 1996. The wounds are too deep and too fresh to vanish from the hearts and minds of those directly affected by the war. The disturbance that followed the aftermath of the disintegration of Yugoslavia has created more than a million people internally displaced and scores of refugees. These people may never be able to return to their homes since the ethnic partition of the country was ratified by the Dayton Peace Agreement. Since 1996, the history of Bosnia has been a constant tug-of-war between the ethnic entities – Republika Srpska in particular – and the nation-state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, supported by the international community.     The trouble history of the Balkan, the poorest region of Europe, will always be a ticking time bomb where ethnic hatred constitutes a major flashpoint for a greater, wider war in Europe.  Also see Russia’s new era?Vladimir Putin solidifies his hold on power in RussiaRussia’s new interest in Southeast AsiaRussia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitions

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