Muslims ‘slaughter their own people’ – Leonard Doyle, The Independent, Saturday 22 August 1992

The Independent (London)

August 22, 1992, Saturday

HEADLINE: Muslims ‘slaughter their own people’

United Nations officials and senior Western military officers believe some of the worst recent killings in Sarajevo, including the massacre of at least 16 people in a bread queue, were carried out by the city’s mainly Muslim defenders – not Serb besiegers – as a propaganda ploy to win world sympathy and military intervention.

The view has been expressed in confidential reports circulating at UN headquarters in New York, and in classified briefings to US policymakers in Washington. All suggest that Sarajevo’s defenders, mainly Muslims but including Croats and a number of Serb residents, staged several attacks on their own people in the hope of dramatising the city’s plight in the face of insuperable Serbian odds.

They emphasize, however, that these attacks, though bloody, were a tiny minority among regular city bombardments by Serbian forces.

The reports recite a litany of gruesome events, from the bombing of the bread queue on 27 May to the 4 August explosion at a cemetery while two orphans were being buried, and a ”choreographed” mortar salvo 30 seconds after Douglas Hurd entered a building for a meeting with the Bosnian President, Alija Izetbegovic, on 17 July. The mortar attack, which the Foreign Secretary played down by saying ”it wasn’t as bad as the No 10 bang,” killed or wounded 10 bystanders. A Bosnian guard of honour for Mr Hurd’s security had, however, already taken cover.

Speaking about the attack on the cemetery, a UN official said: ”The smoke upon impact was . . . only about five or six feet two metres from her one of the injured and if it had been a mortar round as reported she would have been cut into about 20 pieces.”

UN officials also believe the bullet which killed the American television producer David Kaplan near Sarajevo airport on 13 August was probably not fired by a sniper from distant Serbian positions. ”That would have been impossible,” one UN military officer said. ”That shot came in horizontal to the ground. Somebody was down at ground level.”

UN officials also say a Ukrainian soldier shot in the head and heart at Sarajevo’s Marshal Tito barracks on Thursday was killed by ”small arms fire” – by implication the Bosnians. The officials were anxious to point out that they were not trying to exonerate the Serbs, who have been besieging Sarajevo for months, killing unknown numbers of townspeople, as well as carrying out ”ethnic cleansing” around the city and elsewhere in Bosnia.

But they expressed fears that the ”self-inflicted” attacks may not augur well for existing UN forces or for additional Western troops, including Britons, who have to serve there.

In a New York meeting on Thursday attended by Sir Peter Inge, the Chief of the General Staff, it was agreed that the 1,800 British and 1,000 French soldiers being sent in would use their weapons strictly in self-defence and would not intervene to separate Serbs from Muslims.

The televised scenes of civilians cut to pieces by an explosion as they queued for bread on one of Sarajevo’s main shopping thoroughfares, Vase Miskina, horrified international public opinion and added to growing pressure for military intervention against the Serbian side in the war. Vivid footage showed dead bodies littering the street and people with severed limbs sitting on the pavement in pools of blood.

The attack came shortly before a meeting of European Community ambassadors to consider imposing sanctions on Serbia. The world’s press concluded that the atrocity was caused by mortar bombs fired from a Serbian- held position and the attack was widely interpreted as a cynical display of defiance by the Serbs.

UN officials said then that they were suspicious about the circumstances but could not go public without jeopardising the UN mission and possibly endangering UN peace-keepers’ lives.

Classified reports to the UN force commander, General Satish Nambiar, concluded, however, that Bosnian forces loyal to President Alija Izetbegovic may have detonated a bomb.

”We believe it was a command-detonated explosion, probably in a can,” a UN official said then. ”The impact which is there now is not necessarily similar or anywhere near as large as we came to expect with a mortar round landing on a paved surface.”