Sarajevo Neighborhood Feels Jolt of UN Letting Serbs Use Big Weapons Again in Bosnia
SARAJEVO, BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA — ON Friday, the unofficial count in one Sarajevo neighborhood was 26 hits by mortar and tank shells, 15 residents killed, and three weeks for six-year-old Ines not being allowed by her terrified mother to step outside her apartment.
For the people of Dobrinje, one of the Bosnian capital's most heavily shelled neighborhoods, the effect of a United Nations decision to no longer prevent Serb forces from using heavy weapons against Bosnia's Muslim urban areas has been immediate.
Only about 200 yards away from the Serb front line on one side and within range of Serb artillery on the other, residents say shelling and sniping attacks reached their worst level this week since such "exclusion zones" - which had placed Serb tanks and artillery in nine UN-policed storage sites - was established in March 1994.
"She hasn't been outside since school was canceled three weeks ago," says Ines's mother, who asked that her last name not be used. "When we went to the market last month, she didn't recognize what a cucumber was."
Over the last week, harrowing events in Dobrinje reflect the results of secret deals cut by UN officials to win the release of Serb-held UN hostages and Western division over Bosnia. Far-off wrangling over the "contact group," "robust peacekeeping," and other confusing terms for the UN's mission in the former Yugoslavia are being translated into terror, misery, and maiming here.
Last Sunday, after the UN commander in the former Yugoslavia, French Gen. Bernard Janvier, allegedly cut a secret deal with the Bosnian Serbs to win the release of remaining Serb-held hostages, UN peacekeepers quietly withdrew from three remaining UN heavy weapons storage sites around Sarajevo. The exclusion zone ceased to exist, allowing the Serbs to shell the city at will.
On the same Sunday, nine people were killed and 10 injured in Dobrinje when a Serb shell landed in a school where they were waiting to collect drinking water on a warm and sunny afternoon. One of them was Muniba Alic, an elderly woman who was still deaf from the sound of the blast and whose hand still trembled a day after the attack.
As Mrs. Alic returned to collect her water bucket Monday, UN officials in Sarajevo insisted NATO airstrikes were still possible.
On Wednesday, as UN officials showed off a French tank used to destroy a Serb tank that fired on a UN observation post, another shell slammed into Dobrinje. Six people were killed and 15 injured.
UN peacekeepers were unable to respond to the attack. Under their current orders, peacekeepers are allowed to fire back at Serbs firing on peacekeepers, but cannot shoot back at Serbs targeting civilians.
On Thursday, the first reports of a secret deal for the release of UN hostages emerged. General Janvier reportedly agreed in secret meetings that no more NATO airstrikes would be carried out if the hostages were released. The negotiations were carried out while Western nations were calling the Serbs "terrorists" and vowing they would never negotiate for the hostages' release.
On the same day, US Ambassador to the UN Madeline Albright blasted a secret letter sent by Yasushu Akashi, the UN's envoy to the former Yugoslavia, to Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, promising that a new 10,000-troop strong Rapid Reaction Force will not be more aggressive in carrying out the UN's mandate to deliver food and protect civilian safe areas in Bosnia.
Back in Dobrinje, all that is clear is that more explosives are falling from the sky, city water trucks now come to the neighborhood at 3 a.m. so Serb gunners can't target water lines, and the UN arms embargo against the out-gunned Bosnian Army has not been lifted. "I don't really care, I'm not really interested," says Duran, a Dobrinje resident who requested anonymity.
Just outside his window, three mortars, captured from the Serbs by Bosnian soldiers, have been set up. "We have mortars, but we don't have shells for them," Duran says, adding that the neighborhood is proud of its mortars even though they may draw retaliatory fire. "The people all gathered around on the first day they were set up, and clapped when they were fired."