It is now two years since
the Muslim enclave, Srebenica, fell into the hands of the Serbian army in
Bosnia. Much has been written about the matter. Nonetheless the majority of
reports have been limited to a broad media exposure of the event, with very
little analytic rigour. Discussion of Srebrenica cannot be limited to genocide
and mass graves, which has been almost a banale occurrence throughout
ex-Yugoslavia. A rigorous analysis of the events must take into consideration
the background circumstances, in order to understand the real motives which led
to the fall of the enclave.
The zone of Srebrenica, like
almost all of Eastern Bosnia, is characterized by very rugged terrain.
valleys with dense forests and deep ravines make it impossible for combat
vehicles to pass, and offers a clear advantage to defensive
Given the resources available to both parties, and the
characteristics of the terrain, it would seem that the
Bosnian army (ABiH) had the necessary force to defend
itself, if it had used full advantage of the terrain.
This, however, did not occur.
Given the military advantage
of the [Muslim] defensive forces it is very difficult
to explain the absence of military resistance.
The Muslim forces did not establish an effective defensive
system and did not even try to take advantage of their
heavy artillery, under control of the United Nations
(UN) forces, at a time in which they had every reason to
The lack of [Muslim] military response stands in clear
contrast to the offensive attitude which characterized
the actions of the defensive forces in previous siege
situations, which typically launched violent "raids"
against the Serbian villages surrounding the enclave,
thus provoking heavy casualties amongst the Serbian civilian
But in this instance, with the attention of the media
focused upon the area, military defence of the
enclave would have revealed the true situation in
security zones, and demonstrate that
these had never been
genuinely demilitarized zones as was
claimed, but harboured highly-armed [Muslim]
military units. Military resistance would
jeopardize the image of [Muslims as] "victim", which
had been so carefully constructed, and which the Muslims
considered it was vital to maintain.
Throughout the entire operation it was clear that
there were profound disagreements between the leaders
of the enclave. From a military viewpoint, there was
total confusion. [Narer] ORIC,
the charismatic commander of Srebenica, was absent.
The Sarajevo government did not authorize his return
in order to lead the resistance. Military power
fell into the hands of his lieutenants, who had a long
history of incompatibility. The absence of Oric's clear
leadership led to a situation of total ineptitude.
The contradictory orders of his successors completely
paralysed the forces under siege.
The behaviour of the political leaders is also
interesting. The local SDP president, Zlatko Dukic, in
an interview with European Union observers, explained
that Srebrenica formed part of a business transaction
which involved a logistical support route to
Sarajevo, via [Sarajevo suburb of] VOGOSCA. He also
claimed that the fall of the enclave formed part
of an orchestrated campaign to discredit the West and
win the support of Islamic countries. This was the
reason for ORIC to maintain distance from his troops.
This thesis was also defended by the local supporters
of the [Muslim party] SDA. There were also many rumours
of a trade within the local population of the
Another curious aspect was
the absence of a military reaction from the 2nd Corps
of the Muslim army [outside of the enclave], which
did nothing to relieve the military pressure on the
enclave. It was common knowledge that the
[Bosnian] Serb unit in the region, the "Drina Corps",
was exhausted and that the attack on Srebenica was
only possible with the aid of the units from other
regions. Despite this fact,
Sarajevo did not lift
a finger in order to launch an attack which would
have divided the Serbian forces and exposed the
vulnerabilities created by the concentration of
[Bosnian Serb] resources around Srebenica. Such an attack
would have reduced the military pressure on the enclave.
It is also important to register the pathetic appeal
of the president of Opstina [= county, in Serbo-Croatian],
Osman Suljic, on July 9,  which implored military
observers to say to the world that the Serbians were
using chemical weapons. The same gentleman later
accused the media of transmitting false news items
on the resistance of troops in the enclave,
requiring a denial from the UN. According to Suljic,
the Muslim troops did not respond, and would never
respond with heavy artillery fire. Simultaneously, he
complained of the lack of food supplies and of the
humanitarian situation. Curiously, [the U.N.] observers
were never allowed to inspect the [Srebrenica Muslim]
food reserve deposits. The emphasis given by political
leaders on the lack of military response and the
absence of food provisions loosely suggests an official
policy which began to be discernible.
In mid 1995, the prolongation of the war had
dampened public interest. There had been a
substantial reduction in the pressure of public
opinion in the western democracies. An incident of
this importance would nonetheless provide hot news
material for the media during several weeks, could
awaken public opinion and incite new passions. In
this manner it would be possible to kill two birds
with one stone: pressure could be laid to bear in
order to lift the embargo and simultaneously the
occupying countries would find it difficult to
withdraw their forces, a hypothesis which had been
advanced by leading UN figures such as
Akashi and Boutros-Boutros Ghali.
The Muslims always harboured a secret hope that
the embargo would be [officially]
lifted. This had become the prime objective of the
Sarajevo [Muslim] government, and had been fuelled
by the vote in the US Senate and Congress in favour
of such a measure. President Clinton, however,
the decision and required a two thirds majority
in both houses. The enclaves collapse gave the
decisive push that the campaign needed. After its
fall, the US Senate voted with over a two thirds
majority in favour of lifting the embargo.
It was the clear that sooner or later the enclaves
would fall into the hands of the Serbians, it was an
inevitability. There was a consensus amongst the
negotiators (the US administration, the UN and
European governments) that it was impossible to
maintain the three Muslim enclaves, and that they
should be exchanged for territories in Central Bosnia.
Madeleine Albright suggested this exchange on numerous
occasions to Izetbegovic, based on the proposals of
the contact group.
As early as 1993, at the time of the first crisis
of the enclave, Karadzic had proposed to Izetbgovic to
exchange Srebrenica for the [Sarajevo] suburb of Vogosca.
This exchange included the movement of populations in
both directions. This was the purpose of secret
negotiations in order to avoid undesirable publicity.
This implied that the western countries accepted
and encouraged ethnic separation.
The truth is that both the Americans and President
Izetbegovic had tacitly agreed that it made no sense to
insist in maintaining these isolated enclaves in a
divided Bosnia. In 1995 nobody believed any longer
in the inevitability of ethnic division of the
territory. In the month of June 1995, before the
military operation in Srebrenica, Alexander Vershbow,
Special Assistant to President Clinton stated
that "America should encourage the Bosnians to think
in terms of territories with greater territorial
coherence and compactness." In other words this meant
that the enclaves should be forgotten. The attack on
Srebrenica, with no help from Belgrade, was completely
unnecessary and proved to be one of the most
significant examples of the political failure of
the Serbian leadership.
Meanwhile the western media exacerbated the
situation by transforming the enclaves into a
powerful mass-media icon; a situation which
Izetbegovic was quick to explore. CNN had daily
broadcasts of the images of "mass graves for
thousands of corpses," obtained from spy satellites.
Despite the microscopic precision in the localization
of these "graves," it is certain that no discover
to date has confirmed such suspicions. Since there
are no longer restrictions on [NATO troops] movement
[throughout Bosnia], we inevitably speculate on why
they have still not been shown to the world.
If there had been
a premeditated [Serbian] plan of genocide,
instead of attacking in only one direction, from
the south to the north - which left the hypothesis
to escape to the north and west, the Serbs would
have established a siege in order to ensure that
no one escaped. The UN observation posts to
the north of the enclave were never disturbed and
remained in activity after the end of the military
operations. There are obviously mass graves in the
outskirts of Srebrenica as in the rest of
ex-Yugoslavia where combat has occurred, but there
are no grounds for the campaign which was mounted,
nor the numbers advanced by CNN.
The mass graves
are filled by a limited number of corpses from both
sides, the consequence of heated battle and combat
and not the result of a premeditated plan of genocide,
as occurred against the Serbian populations in
in the Summer of 1995, when the Croatian army
implemented the mass murder of all Serbians found
there. In this instance, [in the instance of Krajina fall]
the media maintained an absolute silence, despite
the fact that the genocide occurred over a three
month period. The objective of Srebrenica was
ethnic cleansing and not genocide, unlike what
happened in Krajina, in which although there was
no military action, the Croatian army decimated
Despite knowledge of the fact that the enclaves
were already a lost cause, Sarajevo insisted in
drawing political dividends from the fact. The
receptivity which had been created in the
eyes of public opinion made it easier to sell
the thesis of genocide.
But of even greater importance than the genocide
thesis and the political isolation of the Serbs,
was blackmailing of the UN: either the UN joined
forces with the Sarajevo government in the conflict
(which subsequently happened) or the UN would be
completely discredited in the eyes of the public,
leading in turn to support for Bosnia [Muslims].
Srebrenica was the last straw which led western
governments to reach agreement on the need to cease
their "neutrality" and commence [an open] military
action against one side in the conflict [ - the
Bosnian Serbs]. It was the last straw which united
the West in their desire to break "Serbian bestiality".
Sarajevo [Muslim "government"]
was conscious of the fact that it lacked the military
capacity to defeat the [Bosnian Serbs] Serbs. It was
necessary to create conditions via which the
international community [i.e. the West] could do
this for them. Srebrenica played a vital role in
Srebrenica represents one of a series of acts
by the Serbian leaders intended to provoke the UN, [sic!]
in order to demonstrate their impotence. This was
a serious strategic error which would cost them dear.
The side which had everything to win by demonstrating
the impotence of the UN was the Sarajevo leadership
and not that of Pale. In 1995 it was clear that the
change in the status quo required a powerful intervention
which would overthrow the Serbian military power.
Srebrenica was one of the pretexts, resulting from
the short-sightedness of the Bosnian Serbian leaders.
The besieged [Muslim]
forces could have easily defended the enclave, at least
for much longer, if they had been well led. It proved
convenient to let the enclave fall in this manner.
Since the enclave was doomed to fall, it was preferable
to let this happen in the most beneficial manner possible.
But this would only have been viable if Sarajevo had
political initiative and freedom of movement, which
would never occur at the negotiating table.
The deliberate fall
of the enclave might appear to be an act of terrible
Machiavellian orchestration, [obviously designed in the
minds of Bosnia Muslim American advisers] but the truth
is that the Sarajevo government had much to gain,
as proved to be the case. Srebrenica was not a zero-sum
game. The Serbians won a military victory but with highly
negative political side-effects, which helped result
in their definitive ostracization.
We might add a final curious note. As the UN
observation posts were attacked, and proved impossible to
maintain, the forces withdrew. The barricades set up
by the Muslim army did not let the troops past. These
troops were not treated as soldiers fleeing from the
front line, but rather with a sordid differentiation.
The Muslims not only
refused to fight to defend themselves, they forced
others [here: the Dutch/UN force] to fight on their behalf.
In one instance, the commander of a Dutch vehicle decided
after conversations with ABiH [Bosnian Muslim force] to pass
[their] barrier. [Dutch positions were in front of the Muslim
positions - i.e. toward the attacking Serbs.] A Muslim
soldier threw a hand grenade whose fragments mortally
wounded him. The only UN
soldier to die in the Srebrenica offensive, was killed
by the Muslims.