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Srebrenica – the massacre no one has ever heard of

July 15, 2011

Of the many reasons I hate the United Nations the Srebrenica Massacre is the strongest.  In this 16 year anniversary of the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II, I will give a little history lesson for you folks who are not aware of this travesty of United Nations “Protection”.

Srebrenica is middle right of the highlighted territory.

  • Total population – 37,000
    • Muslim – 27,572 (75.19%)
    • Serbian – 8,315 (22.67%)
    • Yugoslavs (Slavic Muslims) – 380 (1.03%)
    • Others – 400 (1.10%)

As you can see, the predominant population leading up to the massacre was Muslim.  This is important to understand, as the “Bosnia War” (the name of the conflict between Bosnia and Serbia prior to US Involvement 1992-1995) was primarily a program of ethnic cleansing carried out by Serbians against Bosnian Muslims ostensibly under the guise of a war for Serbian independence.

Bosnia didn’t have much going for it in this war.  The Yugoslav National Army (a Warsaw Pact equipped fighting force) was primarily officered by Serbian nationals and subsequently sided with Serbia when hostilities broke out inside the Republic of Bosnia as the minority Serbian population sought to create its own state.  The politics or the “rightness” of the Serbian desire for “self-determination” are not germane to this history, since the method by which they sought their goal undermine any moral high ground upon which they assume to stand.

Typical characterization of the fighting in this war are rather horrendous acts, most of which appear to have no strategic goal besides the decimation of the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) population.  Indiscriminate shelling of towns, indiscriminate sniping, mass rape and genocide were the tactics of the Serbs in this war, culminating in the mass murder of the male population of Srebrenica.

For three years prior to the Massacre in 1995, the villages surrounding the fated town were systematically decimated by Serbian forces as this report by the UK Bosnian Institute attests:

More than three years before the 1995 Srebrenica genocide, Bosnian Serb nationalists – with the logistical, moral and financial support of Serbia and the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) – destroyed 296 predominantly Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) villages in the region around Srebrenica, forcibly uprooting some 70,000 Bosniaks from their homes and systematically massacring at least 3,166 Bosniaks (documented deaths) including many women, children and the elderly.

There was a strategic goal to this ethnic cleansing, the isolation of Srebrenica from any outside support.  The Bosnians were not helpless, they did what they could to defend themselves as well as running succesful offensives to extend the control of Srebrenica and linking to other cities to the north and south.  Unfortunately, due to its proximity to the “country” of Serbia, it was for all practical purposes surrounded and never fully linked up with other Bosnian forces to the West.  In essence, it was an isolated Bosnian town under siege by a stronger and larger Serbian force.

Siege is an apropos term, the town had no running water (water supply was destroyed by Serbia), barely any electricity (what could be supplied by makeshift generators), food was running out and overpopulation was only adding to the problems.  The Bosnian fate was looking rather dire.

The United Nations to the Rescue!

In April 1993, the United Nations issued Resolution 819, declaring Srebrenica a “safe area”.  As history has taught us, UN declarations rarely carry much weight.  The United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR) commander assigned to Srebrenica had an alternative option to enforcing the “safe area” – demilitarize it.

His plan was fairly simple, the Bosnians would give up their weapons in return for direct protection from UN forces in the town.  Good deal huh?  I give up my 30-year-old hunting rifle for the big toys of the “boys in blue”.  The only problem is, you only disarm one side of the conflict, and I might add, the weaker, besieged, outnumbered side.  The Serbs were untouched in this agreement, even to the point that neither side apparently agreed on how large an area was “demilitarized”.

The plan was an utter failure, mostly due to the smallish force of 170 Canadians sent to defend the town.

Here are some quotes from UN delegates sent to oversee the goings on of the combatants around and in Srebrenica “safe area”, remember, this is before the Massacre. (from the UN report)

“a slow-motion process of genocide.”

“Serb forces must withdraw to points from which they cannot attack, harass or terrorise the town. UNPROFOR should be in a position to determine the related parameters. The mission believes, as does UNPROFOR, that the actual 4.5 km by 0.5 km decided as a safe area should be greatly expanded.”

The UN, understanding the first resolution wasn’t working like it was supposed to, decided to drop another one, Resolution 824 (1993).  This one added more cities to the list of “safe areas” and reiterated how a safe area was supposed to work, apparently the Serbs weren’t getting the message.  And why would they?  None of these resolutions granted the UNPROFOR authorization to engage nor use force to enforce the declaration.

In response to concerns from the UNPROFOR commander, the UN sent him an additional 50 unarmed military observers, that should do the trick.  The UN also decided to spell-out the UNPROFOR commander the idiocy of unilaterally disarming one side of the conflict.  No crap.

You can see I am getting more cynical of this retelling as I relay it to you, I apologize, but the events leading up to the Massacre really piss me off.

Yet another resolution.  This time, amazingly, the French saw the idiocy of enforcing a safe area if only one side of the conflict agrees with the resolution.  The French understood you need to have teeth if you are going to “force” both sides to concede to the resolution.  This French viewpoint resulted in UN Resolution 836 (1993), authorizing the UNPROFOR to use force for self-defence.

Nevertheless, the Serbs were not deterred.  They continually harassed humanitarian workers and even UNPROFOR themselves, setting up roadblocks obstructing free movement into and out of the “safe area”.  They continued the indiscriminate shelling of the safe cities, Sarajevo for example (declared a safe area in Resolution 824) received an average of 1000 shells a day, a number that was not lowered by any UN resolution.

The point is, the Serbs did not give a crap about any stupid UN resolution.  And why should they?  Around Srebrenica, they had 2000 men with tanks, in the town were 170 Canadians with their cute white trucks.  They continued to snipe Muslims, drop mortar shells in town, obstruct movement of the UN themselves, and no one did crap about it.  Why should they care what the toothless bastards in New York were “suggesting” they should refrain from doing?

All this history is very convoluted, and to relay it would take many pages so I am going to jump ahead.  To quickly cover the year 1994, numbers of UNPROFOR in the safe areas was increased, up to almost 1000 in Srebrenica, but they still could not enforce the Resolutions adequately.  Freedom of movement was still restricted, shelling continues, etc. etc.  For a very detailed report, read the rest of the UN document linked above.

The Massacre

The months leading up to the Massacre were a hell for the civilians in the town.  Due to the UN’s inability to allow free movement of supplies from humanitarian agencies, starvation was setting in on the town, leading to death from lack of food.  Imagine, a UN “protected” city having people die of starvation.

To describe how the town of Srebrenica was taken by the Serbs, I will quote the excellent wikipedia article:

The Serb offensive on Srebrenica began in earnest on 6 July 1995. In the following days, the five UNPROFOR observation posts, in the southern part of the enclave, fell one by one in the face of the Serb forces advance. Some of the Dutch soldiers retreated into the enclave after their posts were attacked, but the crews of the other observation posts surrendered into Serb custody. Simultaneously, the defending Bosnian forces came under heavy fire and were pushed back towards the town. Once the southern perimeter began to collapse, about 4,000 Bosniak residents, who had been living in a Swedish housing complex for refugees nearby, fled north into Srebrenica town. Dutch soldiers reported that the advancing Serbs were “cleansing” the houses in the southern part of the enclave.

On 8 July, a Dutch YPR-765 armoured vehicle took fire from the Serbs and withdrew. A group of Bosniaks demanded that the armoured vehicle stay to defend them. As the armoured vehicle continued to withdraw, a Bosniak man threw a hand grenade on the vehicle, killing soldier Raviv van Renssen.[50]

Late on 9 July 1995, emboldened by early successes and little resistance from largely demilitarised Bosniaks, as well as the absence of any significant reaction from the international community, President Karadžić issued a new order authorising the VRS Drina Corps to capture the town of Srebrenica.[51]

On the morning of 10 July 1995, the situation in Srebrenica was tense. Residents crowded the streets. The Dutch UNPROFOR troops fired warning shots over the attacking Serbs’ heads and their mortars fired flares but they never fired directly on any Serb units. Lieutenant-Colonel Karremans sent many urgent requests for NATO air support to defend the town, but no assistance was forthcoming until around 2:30 pm on 11 July 1995, when 2 Dutch F-16’s guided by British SAS bombed VRS tanks advancing towards the town. NATO planes also attempted to bomb VRS artillery positions overlooking the town, but had to abort the operation due to poor visibility. NATO plans to continue the air strikes were abandoned following the Serb Army’s threats to kill Dutch troops and the French hostages (pilots in the custody of the VRS), as well as shell the UN Potočari compound on the outside of the town, and surrounding areas where 20,000 to 30,000 civilians had fled.

Potocari compound is where the true Massacre actually happened, all the while Dutch troops were supposedly “protecting” the 30,000 civilians crowded into this United Nations base.

Again I will quote wikipedia here from the same article, please remember, this was a Dutch Compound defended by Dutch troops who were present while the following atrocities were taking place:

The UN compound of Potocari, where the Massacre happened

On 12 July 1995, as the day wore on, the refugees in the compound could see VRS soldiers setting houses and haystacks on fire. Throughout the afternoon, Serb soldiers mingled in the crowd and summary executions of men occurred.[43] In the late morning of 12 July 1995 a witness saw a pile of 20 to 30 bodies heaped up behind the Transport Building in Potočari, alongside a tractor-like machine. Another testified that he saw a soldier slay a child with a knife in the middle of a crowd of expellees. He also said that he saw Serb soldiers execute more than a hundred Bosnian Muslim men in the area behind the Zinc Factory and then load their bodies onto a truck, although the number and nature of the murders stand in contrast to other evidence on the Trial Record that indicates that the killings in Potočari were sporadic in nature. Soldiers were picking people out of the crowd and taking them away. A witness recounted how three brothers – one merely a child and the others in their teens – were taken out in the night. When the boys’ mother went looking for them, she found them with their throats slit.[43][51]

That night, a Dutchbat medical orderly witnessed two Serb soldiers raping a young woman.[54]

One survivor described the murder of a baby and the rape of women occurring in the close vicinity of Dutch U.N. peacekeepers who did nothing to prevent it. According to the survivor, a Serb told a mother to make her child stop crying, and when it continued to cry he took it and slit its throat, after which he laughed.[55] Stories about rapes and killings spread through the crowd and the terror in the camp escalated.[43] Several individuals were so terrified that they committed suicide by hanging themselves.[51]

One of the survivors, Zarfa Turkovic,[56] described the horrors of rapes as follows: “Two [Serb soldiers] took her legs and raised them up in the air, while the third began raping her. Four of them were taking turns on her. People were silent, no one moved. She was screaming and yelling and begging them to stop. They put a rag into her mouth and then we just heard silent sobs….

This describes how the male population was removed and executed:

From the morning of 12 July, Serb forces began gathering men and boys from the refugee population in Potočari and holding them in separate locations, and as the refugees began boarding the buses headed north towards Bosniak-held territory, Serb soldiers separated out men of military age who were trying to clamber aboard. Occasionally, younger and older men were stopped as well (some as young as 14 or 15).[58][59][60] These men were taken to a building in Potočari referred to as the “White House”. As early as the evening of 12 July 1995, Major Franken of the Dutchbat heard that no men were arriving with the women and children at their destination in Kladanj.[43]

On 13 July 1995, Dutchbat troops witnessed definite signs that the Serb soldiers were murdering some of the Bosniak men who had been separated. For example, Corporal Vaasen saw two soldiers take a man behind the “White House”, heard a shot and saw the two soldiers reappear alone. Another Dutchbat officer saw Serb soldiers murder an unarmed man with a single gunshot to the head and heard gunshots 20–40 times an hour throughout the afternoon. When the Dutchbat soldiers told Colonel Joseph Kingori, a United Nations Military Observer (UNMO) in the Srebrenica area, that men were being taken behind the “White House” and not coming back, Colonel Kingori went to investigate. He heard gunshots as he approached, but was stopped by Serb soldiers before he could find out what was going on.[43]

Some of the executions were carried out at night under arc lights, and industrial bulldozers then pushed the bodies into mass graves.[61] According to evidence collected from Bosniaks by French policeman Jean-René Ruez, some were buried alive; he also heard testimony describing Serb forces killing and torturing refugees at will, streets littered with corpses, people committing suicide to avoid having their noses, lips and ears chopped off, and adults being forced to watch the soldiers kill their children.

There is a lot more to this story, but I don’t have the time or patience to write about it.  If you do have the time, read more about it at wikipedia, or the UN report, it is an amazing story of the worthlessness of the United Nations.

And that is the true horror of this story.  These people were murdered, raped and mutilated under the auspices of the most powerful organization in the world.  The Bosnian civilian trust in the protection of the United Nations led them to their own demise.  Many of these people never would have fled to Potocari had they not assumed the blue-helmeted troops would actually stop Serbs from raping and murdering people right in front of their faces.

The only good that can come out of a tragedy such as this, is that it finally woke up America to the worthlessness of the UN in preventing atrocities like this happening in Bosnia.  The United States led a NATO mission in late 1995 to do what the UN never had the courage to do, bare some teeth at the Serbs.

Amazingly, the fighting stopped almost immediately.  This mission eventually evolved into Operation Joint Endeavour, which I was a part of as an US Army Infantrymen.  I personally guarded civilian humanitarian missions to inter exhume mass-grave sites that were a result of this massacre and others.  The mass graves were called “secondary”, the “primary” ones were actually at the sites of the massacres, but the Serbs moved them to hide the evidence.

I find it hard to believe how little coverage this massacre received in the press, then and now.  The cynical side of me attributes it to the media wanting to cover up one of the grandest “cluster-f**ks” in United Nations history – a goal to protect the darling of the progressives.  Or maybe it is the strong second amendment implications this story has – when reliance on the government to defend your life goes wrong.  Whatever the reason, this tale needs more telling, and by better writers than myself.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. JustFacts permalink
    July 15, 2011 7:52 pm

    I don’t think it could be told any better than by someone who was actually there. Maybe you weren’t there when the actual attrocities took place, but I am sure that you saw a lot of the results. I’m sorry that you had to witness this imbecilic wave at cultural segregation. The UN is a totally discreditted and worthless organization. Why we play a game of charades to give it and aire of authenticity, I will never know. I guess it is like you said, the UN is the love-child of the left-wing dingbats.

    • July 15, 2011 9:34 pm

      Yeah, I seriously despise the UN.

      I can’t imagine myself standing in combat dress with a rifle in a confined area where rape, mutilations and murders were going on and not do ANYTHING! Shame on the Dutch and shame on the UN, you deserve no respect and no money from my country to continue the funding of your worthlessness.

  2. ida permalink
    July 16, 2011 4:12 pm

    What you seem ignorant of is that the Muslims had their own army in Srebrenica – AN ENTIRE BRIGAGE. Their commander was Naser Oric and he commanded the 28th Brigade – this was several thousands strong – only they got orders to leave their positions – which were ALL around Srebrenica and strong according to a Srebrenica soldier interviewed in St. Louis, Missouri (where many Srebrenica residents were settled).
    They way outnumbered the UN yet they were ordered to leave and gather in the north and overnight the started leaving for Tuzla and other Muslim-controlled territory. They started arriving a week later.

    Naser Oric bragged and showed film in January 1994 to top western veteran reporters John Pomfret of the Washington Times and Bill Schiller or the Toronto sun his VIDEOS WHICH DEPICTED DECAPITATIONS OF SERBS ALL AROUND SREBRENICA BY THE MUSLIMS.

    Naser said he’d kill people sometimes with explosives other times they had to use “cold weapons” (probably so they couldn’t be heard) and he and the Srebrenica Muslims did a SCORCHED EARTH POLICY ON ALL THE SERBIAN VILLAGES AROUND Srebrenica.

    The UN protected a Muslim military base which would kill Serbs and then retreat behind a civilian shield and the UN.

    Also, when the Serbs arrived in Srebrenica the Muslims soldiers and men were trekking their way to Tuzla and some fought in running battles on the way – they had many miles of Serbian-held territory to get through. Their numbers were said to be 15,000 upon departing.

    Meanwhile the UN had long since gathered the women and children at their base (the UN ordered it), and when the Serbs came the UN told the Serbs to take them to Tuzla.

    The Serbs sent CIVILIAN bus drivers and you can see in pictures crowds gathering around the buses. There are no injuries or scenes of violence whatsoever and no one looks starving.

    They arrived at Tuzla airport without a scratch – there’s no pictures nor videos (and the press was there) of any injuries and no one was being rushed to the hospitals.

    You repeat a lot of media-pushed propaganda.

    The media continually pushes Srebrenica while real genocide, such as Rwanda which was civilians AND NO MILITARY, they don’t give annual attention to.
    Rwanda and other places were MUCH larger and they weren’t military.

    Most of the dead in the Bosnian war were MILITARY.

    Oh and Muslim women were involved in torture and murder of Serbs. An Albanian women (just one example) who fought in Naser’s forces murdered a Serb boy who came back to check on his dog – after his family was cleansed by the Muslims.

    The Muslims even destroyed Serbs’ livestock – let it go to waste after brutally killing the animals – this shows it wasn’t (just) for food but to prevent Serb villagers from their livelihood.

    The Srebrenica Muslims had already destroyed scores of Serbian villages in an ever wider radius around Srebrenica by the end of 1992.

    In 1993 the Serbs got organized and started pushing them back

    • July 16, 2011 6:19 pm

      I appreciate the comment, though I feel “ignorant” is a little uncalled for. Nonetheless, you bring some interesting points to the matter, though i would have preferred dates to your anecdotes, since the build up to the Massacre took years, not a few weeks.

      “Meanwhile the UN had long since gathered the women and children at their base (the UN ordered it), and when the Serbs came the UN told the Serbs to take them to Tuzla.”

      This is only a half-truth. Men were on the buses as well, but they were forcefully removed by the Serbs. Secondly, why would the UN have to tell the Serbs to take people to Tuzla? If as you say, the poor Serbs were so outnumbered, isn’t it odd that the Serbs appeared to control movement in Bosnia?

      Also, a brigade is not even close to 15,000 troops, in any army. A brigade is around 1000-2000 troops, if one is assuming fully strengthed, which the 28th was not.

      As with any atrocities in war, both sides are usually guilty of some kind of horrible acts. In this case, and the reason for my post, one side was helped by the complete futility and idiocy of the United Nations. But to deny what happened, as if it was some worldwide conspiracy is almost as ludicrous as denying the Holocaust. What is to be benefitted from the UN reporting how retarded and worthless they are?

      I was hoping and expecting a Serb response to this post, you have not disappointed.

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