publisher colophon

SECTION 5    The End Approaches

32. OUTSIDE: Security and Cooperation

The gap between rough reality and polite policy statements was maddening to President Izetbegović, who managed to escape his besieged city to attend the Budapest summit of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in December 1994. Created twenty years earlier, that organization comprised almost all European countries, plus Canada and the United States.1 The founding pact outlined general principles of international behavior and addressed economic, environmental, and humanitarian issues.

Covering the December meeting, the Christian Science Monitor let loose a torrent of scorn: “With its failure even to issue a statement critical of the latest outrages by the Bosnian Serbs, the [CSCE] meeting… joined the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO as another international organization unable to take any meaningful steps for peace in the Balkans…. The CSCE fiddled as Bosnia burns.”2

I sat behind President Clinton, watching world leaders around the gigantic table take turns expounding. The fiddle score, it turned out, was an affected and stale proclamation, “Toward a Genuine Partnership in a New Era”:

2. We believe in the central role of the CSCE in building a secure and stable CSCE community, whole and free….

3…. We are determined to give a new political impetus to the CSCE, thus enabling it to play a cardinal role in meeting the challenges of the twenty-first century.

4…. Since we last met… the roots of democracy have spread and struck deeper.

5. The spread of freedoms has been accompanied by new conflicts and the revival of old ones. Warfare in the CSCE region to achieve hegemony and territorial expansion continues to occur. Human rights and fundamental freedoms are still flouted, intolerance persists and discrimination against minorities is practiced. The plagues of aggressive nationalism, racism, chauvinism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and ethnic tension are still widespread. Along with social and economic instability, they are among the main sources of crisis, loss of life and human misery…. This situation requires our resolute action….

7…. The CSCE’s democratic values are fundamental to our goal of a community of nations with no divisions, old or new, in which the sovereign equality and the independence of all States are fully respected, there are no spheres of influence and the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals, regardless of race, colour, sex, language, religion, social origin or of belonging to a minority, are vigorously protected.

8. The CSCE will be a primary instrument for early warning, conflict prevention and crisis management in the region….

10…. We have established a “Code of Conduct on Politico-Military Aspects of Security.”…

11…. We have directed it [the CSCE] to continue its work in accordance with its mandate and to develop a framework which will serve as a basis for an agenda…. We have also mandated it to address specific regional security problems, with special emphasis on longer-term stability in South-Eastern Europe.3

Because the delegations came with unique sets of aims and understandings, they were unable to agree on focused objectives and enforceable provisions. The code’s tiered mandate to “develop a framework which will serve as a basis for an agenda” mired the project from the start. In another paragraph, the importance of “start[ing] discussion on a model of common and comprehensive security for our region” did little more to dredge the project out of futility. This was hardly the hoped-for call to action.

After words and words and words, it was President Izetbegović’s turn to speak. The declaration had at least mentioned “special emphasis on longer-term stability in South-Eastern Europe.” With passion, he addressed his peers. How could that distinguished group calmly discuss cooperating on security and human rights while 250 miles away his city was being shelled as they spoke?

President Clinton’s lips were tight as he stared at the Bosnian, knowing full well the responsibility of the United States as lone superpower. But whatever empathy he felt for Izetbegović must have been complicated by his resolve to strengthen his critical relationship with President Yeltsin. After all, Clinton needed Yeltsin’s cooperation to fulfill his vision of an enlarged NATO, including Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.

Izetbegović’s speech provoked a response from the Russian. Exercised over the prospect of NATO expansion, which was perceived by his constituency as a threat, Yeltsin could not afford to lose both battles—intervention in the Balkans and the expansion of NATO. His meaning was unmistakable: “Europe has not yet freed itself from the heritage of the Cold War [and] is in danger of plunging into a cold peace.” NATO expansion or Bosnian intervention? Should Clinton risk the first by taking a strong stand on the second? The Chicago Tribune laid out the conflicting agendas: “How will NATO, a UN chastened by its Bosnia experience, and the large but weak Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe… divide the tasks of collective security…”4 The New York Post was less patient:

NATO has more important worries at the moment than the incorporation of former Warsaw Pact nations into the alliance, most notably, the crisis in the Balkans. But Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s outburst at the European security summit in Budapest… certainly shoved the issue to the front burner. Yeltsin’s truculent speech… overshadowed issues of more immediate significance: the Balkan war and Ukraine’s decision to embrace the principles of nuclear non-proliferation…. Frankly, we don’t think a right-wing putsch in Moscow is just around the corner. And the “Don’t destabilize Yeltsin” talk reminds us of nothing so much as the endless Cold War chatter about the need to strengthen the “doves” in the Kremlin, lest the “hawks” win the day. It was nonsense then; it remains so now.5

Yet what sounded to the world like nonsense was in fact dissonance as each talented player came to the stage with music for a different piece. No matter how well tuned the instruments and attentive the players, the effect was cacophony.

Still, whenever they could, political leaders sought moments of harmony. One such moment was the twentieth anniversary of the Helsinki Accords, which created a standard for human rights across Europe. For the commemoration, I joined a well-heeled crowd gathered in the stunning Zeremoniensaal of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. Many of the leaders spoke poignantly of the hopes those accords embodied and the limitations of implementing them, as witnessed in the Balkans.

Between speakers, a trio of young men played soulful music by Haydn. I sat in my velvet chair, wondering how to account for the nonchalance of fate. Those boys could just as easily have been members of the Sarajevo Philharmonic, dodging snipers as they ran down alleys to rehearsal. Or worse, they were the right age to scramble into a tank or perch in the mountains above Sarajevo, looking down the barrel of a big gun, firing missiles into kindergartens. Even as I was trying to listen to the speakers, I was distracted by the lunacy—the extreme outcomes of happenstance.

I unabashedly joined conversations to make the case for international involvement, this time with President Richard von Weisecker of Germany, President Thomas Klestil of Austria, and Chancellor Vranitsky.

33. INSIDE: Sarajevo Cinderella

Amid the staccato of guns and shelling, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was one of the first organizations to enter Bosnia. The committee had been involved in every major armed conflict since 1864—after a Swiss businessman convinced a group of nobles that enemy troops deserved parity in medical treatment. The 1949 Geneva Convention and additional international protocols of 1977 gave the ICRC a mandate to trace the missing. During the war, the committee delivered eighteen million messages in the former Yugoslavia to try to keep families and friends in touch.6 Bosnians I spoke with told of hopes raised, then dashed as they searched for loved ones. Enabling communication, the ICRC also verified whether people were alive or dead.

A Bosnian journalist told me of three children who became her neighbors. In the chaos of war, a girl named Ljilja fled with her brother from Knin, the Serb headquarters within Croatia. After a harrowing journey—traveling, then hiding, then traveling on—the two were able to find their sister for what would be a short-lived respite.

The sister lived in a Sarajevo suburb. Once a quiet neighborhood, it was now a distressed front-line location. For a whole year, the children tried to contact their parents back in Croatia. They relied on the ICRC to get their messages through. One day, after getting word that their mother was alive in Knin, the elated children wrote her a letter. She ran to her neighbors with the note in her hand, crying, “My children are alive! They’re alive!” But her joy was too much to bear. She collapsed on her neighbor’s doorstep with a fatal heart attack.

From that point on, Ljilja lost her spirit and her strength. Despite the effort of her new neighbor to restore her hope, she seemed to be trying to meet death.

The journalist told me of one day when Ljilja and her brother went out for water. All Sarajevans had been struggling to find basic necessities. Once water stopped flowing in their homes, they had to search across the city for open pipes. People traveled for miles, some hauling empty canisters in wheelbarrows and baby carriages.7

But some water stations, where people waited in line for hours, had become sniper targets. That day, as Ljilja and her brother stood in line, she was killed by a shell aimed at the queue. Her brother came back wearily, the neighbor said, holding only her slipper.

34. OUTSIDE: Failure at Srebrenica

In an exhaustive report after the war, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan would admit to the member states: “Having served as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations during much of the period under review, I am fully cognizant of the mandate entrusted to the United Nations and only too painfully aware of the Organization’s failures in implementing that mandate.” 8

The “period under review” was the massacre at Srebrenica, a mountain resort that became the site of Europe’s worst atrocity since Hitler. The drama started in April 1992, when the hamlet fell to Serb paramilitaries who had overrun most of eastern Bosnia. Local Bosniaks led by Naser Orić retook the town three weeks later.

Orić, a former police officer and Milošević bodyguard, would later be convicted of war crimes committed during his offensives that followed the reclaiming of Srebrenica. His forces accumulated bloody victories throughout 1992, destroying scores of Serb villages. More than thirteen hundred Serbs were killed and many others tortured—sometimes burned alive in their torched homes.9

The Serbs launched a counteroffensive, driving Bosniaks from surrounding areas toward hoped-for refuge in the beleaguered town. On 11 March 1993, when UN Force Commander Philippe Morillon went to the small hill community, he was shocked by the suffering of more than sixty thousand people, many living in the streets or on rooftops.

During Morillon’s visit, the Serbs halted their attacks. Worried that his departure would trigger more shelling, Bosniak women surrounded his vehicle to block his leaving. After hours of unsuccessful negotiation with the women, Morillon accepted that he was trapped.10 To calm the situation, he stood on the balcony of the local post office and declared: “You are now under the protection of the United Nations… I will never abandon you.”11

After Morillon’s unauthorized proclamation on 16 April, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 819, designating Srebrenica a “safe area” for Bosniaks driven from their homes—to be protected by “all necessary means, including the use of force.”

Two days later, Morillon brokered a misguided deal on behalf of the UN between Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladić and Bosniak General Sefer Halilović. Mladić would halt Serb attacks on the town; in exchange, the Bosniaks would hand over their weapons to a small group of Canadian UN monitors.12

The only country that offered troops to protect the mass of refugees was the Netherlands. Before sending in six hundred lightly armed soldiers,13 Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers was personally assured by President Clinton that “air support” for the troops would be provided if necessary.14 Indeed, the presence of the unit originally was conceived as a “‘tripwire’ for the use of air power.”15

The situation began to deteriorate immediately. Diego Arria, the head of a UN Security Council delegation to Srebrenica, named it “genocide in slow motion.”16 The Dutch soldiers had orders to retaliate only if they themselves were shot at—not actively to protect the citizens. As it turned out, they could not even protect themselves. Short of fuel, vehicles, and ammunition, they were no match for the heavy artillery of some fifteen hundred Serb troops.

For the rest of 1994 and into 1995, Serbs restricted the movement of the UN troops and disrupted their convoys containing basic supplies, including food and medicine. At one point, they held seventy Dutch soldiers hostage.

Relations between the Bosniaks and Dutch were also tense. The few Bosniaks desperately trying to defend their town and draw more international support stopped UN patrols and took a hundred peacekeepers hostage for four days in January 1995.17 The ground rules that allowed the subsequent massacre were set at a meeting on 4 June in the Bosnian-Serbian border town of Zvornik. There, French General Bernard Janvier, supreme UN military commander in the former Yugoslavia, met with Bosnian Serb General Mladić. It seemed an officer like Janvier respected a génocidaire more than he did the ragtag Bosniaks. Despite overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of human rights abuses were being committed by Serb military and paramilitary forces, Janvier characterized Mladić as “a professional soldier trying to defend his people.”18

The two “professional soldiers” struck a deal. But because the UN leaders who determined the rules of engagement ultimately had neither the vision nor the will to use the promised air power at their disposal, once again Mladić had the upper hand. “We were the supplicants,” an aide admitted. “Janvier proposed the meeting. Janvier proposed the deal.”19

“The deal” comprised three promises. UN troops would be safe from Serb threats; the Serbs would not be targeted by airstrikes; and they would free hundreds of UN peacekeepers whom they had been holding hostage.

Although outranked, British General Rupert Smith spoke up against the agreement five days later at a meeting in the Croatian town of Split. But Janvier reportedly replied, “I insist that we will never have the possibility of combat, of imposing our will on the Serbs.”20 This was just the nod the Serbs needed to wipe out Bosniak enclaves in their eastern Bosnia campaign.

On 11 July 1995, Serb troops entered Potočari, a nearby village to which the Srebrenica refugees had been pushed. The next day, Mladić stood before the refugees and theatrically compared himself to Allah, assuring them that no harm would come to them. Later, the show would continue as he patted a young boy on the head and his men handed out chocolates to children.

In the middle of the afternoon, twenty-five thousand Bosniak women were ordered by Mladić to take their young and elderly relatives and climb into a fleet of buses and trucks for the fifty-mile drive to Tuzla, outside of Serb-controlled territory. The women were told the men and boys would follow on foot. It was a cruel ruse. Within a few hours, the slaughter began. Over the next several days, thousands of men and boys would have their throats slit or be lined up, shot, and piled into mass graves. Only a few escaped through the woods.

As the bloodshed continued, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Yasushi Akashi met with his military commander, Janvier, and several other officers to discuss NATO airstrikes against the Serb forces. Akashi described to the group how, over the phone with Milošević, he had tried to distinguish between “close air support” and the pro- hibited “airstrike.” The Serb leader had rejected the distinction, saying that such a strike would violate General Janvier’s agreement with General Mladić.

Milošević knew that UN approval was required for NATO airstrikes in the “dual key” policy adopted by the internationals: if he could dissuade the UN, he could prevent NATO from acting.

As the meeting proceeded, instead of meaningful intervention, NATO planes tried to hit Serb armored vehicles with free-fall bombs. Hearing of those limited strikes, Janvier ordered the Dutch battalion to withdraw from its observation posts to safer positions, retracting even that thin line of defense.

Milošević called again, outraged at the pinprick strikes. He maintained that the Serb advance was in response to “terrorism” by Bosniaks. As officials discussed the next steps, the onslaught at Srebrenica gathered momentum.

The Dutch soldiers had been abandoned. Except for NATO’s minimal response, their pleas for airstrikes were ignored. Clinton’s promised US support did not come, and Prime Minister Lubbers faced the specter of a panicked Dutch unit fleeing its post in a light tank, plowing through a cluster of Bosniaks trying to block the flight of their protectors.

The chaos not only engulfed the terrified Bosniaks and peacekeepers—it also threatened international authorities fearful of being blamed for the debacle. One of the Dutch officers later alleged that his defense ministry deliberately ruined film he had taken, which showed nine bodies lying in a stream—evidence that the killing began while the Dutch were still present. That film, he said, also included images showing Dutch soldiers helping the Serb military separate the men and boys from the women.21

Meanwhile, as women and parts of their families streamed in from Srebrenica, representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees set up tents on the Tuzla airport tarmac. Already traumatized, the women became frantic as hours and then days went by with no sign of their husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers. Bosnian Serbs insisted to the women that once the men had been screened for “potential war criminals,” they could rejoin their families.

On 13 July in Sarajevo, Bosnian Foreign Minister Hasan Muratović informed US Ambassador John Menzies that more than a thousand men had been rounded up and were being held in a stadium near Srebrenica. The same day, an understated cable from Akashi noted: “We are beginning to detect a shortfall in the number of persons expected to arrive in Tuzla. There is no further information on the status of approximately 4,000 draft-age males.”22 In Belgrade, ninety miles east of Tuzla, UN diplomats were meeting with Milošević to negotiate safety for their failed peacekeepers. Milošević persisted in maintaining that he had no control over Bosnian Serb military actions, including Mladić’s attack. That claim was spurious, as evidenced in a behind-the-scenes report on 17 July from Akashi to Kofi Annan:

She has survived Srebrenica but, in a sense, lost her life. courtesy of tarik samarah

Carl Bildt [a European Union envoy], Mr. Thorwald Stoltenberg [of the standing Geneva peace conference] and myself met in Belgrade with President Milošević. I was accompanied by General Rupert Smith.

Milošević, at the request of Bildt, facilitated the presence of General Mladić at the meeting. Mladić and Smith had a long, bilateral discussion. Despite their disagreement on several points, the meeting re-established dialogue between the two generals. Informal agreement was reached on a number of points….

In view of the highly sensitive nature of the presence of Mladić at the meeting, it was agreed by all participants that the fact should not be mentioned at all in public.23

Once Srebrenica fell, the UN soldiers were in the hands of Mladić. They had faced excruciating choices. The fearful Dutch battalion “transferred 30,000 liters of fuel to the Bosnian Serb Army in accordance with Mladić’s demands.”24 That Dutch fuel was used to drive prisoners to their execution and to bulldoze their bodies into graves.

A photograph from those hours was wired around the world. It showed a grim-faced Dutch commander holding a glass as the victorious Serbs toasted each other.

The Dutch finally left their station in Potočari on 21 July. Estimates are that more than eight thousand unarmed Bosniak men and boys had been murdered.

The UN envoy for human rights, former Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, had advocated the creation of protected safe havens in eastern Bosnia. After the massacre he resigned, declaring that “one cannot speak about the protection of human rights with credibility when one is confronted with the lack of consistency and courage displayed by the international community and its leaders.”25

35. INSIDE: Magbula’s Parrot

After almost a year of living under siege in Potočari, Magbula had heard Commander Morillon’s promise in 1993 to protect Srebrenica. When Morillon had first come to investigate, residents of her village had crowded into his office and approached him on the street: “Everyone was after him asking the same question: ‘Are we safe? Are you going to protect us?’” Magbula told me that, reassured by Morillon’s pledge of UN protection, “we were all happy, believing that all the other refugees would be able to go back to their homes. And some of our people who had fled would be able to return.”

Magbula herself went to see Morillon, carrying her parrot: “He asked me why I was giving him a parrot. I said, ‘I have no food for my parrot anymore, and I want to give him to you, because you’re going to be in a better position to feed him.’ And then they took a picture of me and General Morillon. But after the fall of Srebrenica everything in my house was destroyed, so I don’t have that picture anymore.”

In Potočari, Magbula and her husband had built a home and raised two children. One son was away at college in Tuzla, and one was still living at home when the war started. When the Dutch peacekeeping forces headquartered themselves in Potočari, Magbula passed their buildings on her daily walks.

She watched over the next two years as Srebrenica swelled with tens of thousands of refugees. She and her neighbors tried to help the people who came from farms to seek safety in the town: “There was a time when I had fifteen children in front of my door asking for something to eat, and we were doing our best to help every one of them.” But no matter how many she helped, the refugees kept coming.

One day, Magbula heard megaphones atop trucks that were circling Potočari. The Dutch troops were imploring residents to come to the UN compound. “I asked what was really going on,” Magbula told me, “and they explained that it would be easier to protect us all there. They said it was for our own safety.” People wanting to run away were told to report to the compound. From there, the troops said, they could leave.

The road running by her house was jammed with thousands of panicked refugees, carrying the few belongings they had been able to throw together. Serb soldiers who entered the town on 11 July were shouting, “Hajde, hajde!” (Let’s go!). “Then the people began stopping by, asking for water,” Magbula said. “Some asked for something to wear.”

Despite the UN’S insistence, Magbula stayed in her house: “Everyone kept asking me why—why I wasn’t going. And I said, ‘I just want to stay home.’ I didn’t have any reason to leave. I never harmed anyone.”

Eventually, Magbula decided to go to the UN compound. But she stopped short at the fence, where a hole had been cut so the refugees could get in: “I really didn’t want to go in, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get out.” Instead, she went back to her house with her elderly mother-in-law. She picked some vegetables from her garden, which had sustained her through the war. The two women brought the food to people inside the compound, including her family members, who “kept telling us we weren’t safe staying in our house. So, finally, we joined them.”

Instead of a refuge, in the darkness of night the compound at Potočari became a scene from hell: random executions, rapes, wild rumors, and primal wailing. Wednesday morning, 12 July, Mladić came to the UN buildings for a carefully coordinated stunt, reassuring the refugees with water, bread, and words of calm.26 “He told us that he wasn’t going to harm anyone,” Magbula remembered. “He said, ‘You’re all going to go wherever you want. Don’t worry; you’re all going to be able to leave.’ He told us we couldn’t take anything more than a few personal items. Not even a spoon or a blanket. So I took just a few clothes. And I brought my documents with me—I thought that was the most important thing—and some of the family gold.” Soon, Magbula lost even that. Serb buses pulled into the UN compound. Magbula continued:

That’s when they started separating men from women. And I kept telling them, “I want to go with my husband. Why don’t you take me with him?” They kept reassuring me, “Don’t worry. We only want to interview him.” That was the last time I saw him.

When they separated my husband and me, he was the one carrying our belongings, so everything went with him. As we were leaving, I asked the Serb soldiers, “Where are you taking us?” They kept saying, To a safe place. Don’t worry.”

One month later, David Rohde of the Christian Science Monitor became the first outsider to investigate the crime scene. He found a human femur surrounded by bits of tattered fabric jutting out from one of several rich brown mounds of earth. Rohde also found an abandoned building in which someone or something had apparently been dragged through piles of feces. Bullet holes pocked the walls, and dried bloodstains splattered the floor.27

The scene corroborated descriptions by several male escapees of being crammed shoulder to shoulder into rooms, unable to move or relieve themselves, and being rubbed in feces. They described men and boys becoming psychotic and others committing suicide rather than share the fate of those they saw being tortured.24 8

Meanwhile, in Tuzla, a steady stream of Serb buses spilled out tens of thousands of bodies—alive and dead—onto the airport tarmac. There the survivors of Srebrenica waited, their moans blending together in an eerie, low hum. Days passed, and accounts began to emerge: large groups of men and boys fleeing through the woods, only to be attacked with heavy artillery as well as automatic weapons; mass graves; and the bodies of loved ones left lying in the woods to be devoured by wild animals.

The UN set up tents and served food, but the women were single-minded. Desperate mothers and wives stared into the trees, waiting for familiar figures to appear. Few did.

One of the few escapees was an elderly Bosniak refugee, who said he’d been in a group of six hundred men corralled for execution. The men were trucked twenty at a time to a nearby field and machine-gunned. The old man was left for dead among the corpses but crawled out before the bodies were bulldozed into graves. Other than tales like these, the women knew nothing of the fate of their family members who had been left behind.

The frantic waiting evolved into a thick, enervating pall of depression. Many committed suicide. Death upon death. Eventually, faced with inescapable conclusions, some survivors began to give up hope; others would cling to it for years.

The gruesome killing spree of Srebrenica, unimaginable only three years earlier, turned out to be the turning point of the war.

36. OUTSIDE: The Accident

Following the massacre at Srebrenica, it took nerve for the negotiating team led by Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke to head to the Balkans. Since face-to-face communication among Balkan leaders was more likely to be explosive than productive, the US team was going to try shuttle diplomacy. From the start, the trip was exhausting. The team traveled between multiple cities in a single day. Transportation was often complicated and indirect. And leaders with whom they met were generally quarrelsome and uncooperative.

On 19 August, these challenges collided. The team needed to go to Sarajevo, the city they had visited least, but Milošević and the Bosnian Serbs surrounding the airport had refused to guarantee their safety if they flew in. Instead, Holbrooke and his traveling companions were forced to take a helicopter from Split to a field in the hills outside Sarajevo. From there they would wind down Mt. Igman in a Humvee and armored personnel carrier (APC), on what had become known as the most dangerous road in Europe. But that day, they were advised by the UN that the narrow, twisting, red-clay track seemed the safest way into the city, since all others passed through Bosnian Serb lines.General Wesley Clark, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and military advisor to the team, asked Holbrooke to discuss something with him in the armored Humvee. Following them would be the APC, carrying a security officer and several members of the team, including Joe Kruzel, an academic with a delightfully playful side, representing the Department of Defense; the endlessly energetic Bob Frasure, Holbrooke’s deputy, whose witty cables were read throughout the State Department; and Nelson Drew, an Air Force colonel and devout Christian who had headed a White House crisis task force on Yugoslavia.

After a while, the group began the most dangerous part of the journey on the crude road. Even though French troops were rebuilding the wide path and patrolling it with tanks, this stretch high above the Sarajevo valley was exposed to Serb fire.

The APC was trying to keep up, but at some point Holbrooke and Clark realized there was a problem. They stopped the Humvee and ran back around the curve, where they found that their comrades’ vehicle had rolled over the edge, crashing through the trees on the mountainside.

Hope of finding survivors was short-lived. In two explosions, live ammunition the APC had been carrying (against regulations) was set off. Frasure and Drew were killed at once, trapped in the burning APC. Kruzel survived the crash down the incline and was pulled from the vehicle moments before the explosions, but his head injuries were severe; he did not make it to the hospital.

Hearing of the accident, I called Chris Hill, director of the Office of South Central European Affairs at the State Department. “No more American diplomats are going to die on that goat path,” he said with grief and anger. Then he added, with equal fervor, that he would pursue a peace settlement no matter what: “Not because the White House wants it, but because I want to tell Bob’s girls and Katharina that he died for something.”

On 23 August 1995, the chapel at Arlington Cemetery was packed. As the crowd waited, President Clinton was talking at length with the teenage daughters of the deceased. I thought of how many times I had seen him doting over his daughter, Chelsea. Perhaps this encounter was affecting him more intensely than most.

“Our sadness can help us remember those in Sarajevo,” he said in the chapel. Indeed, that day President Clinton announced a newly reconstituted negotiating team, including Hill. Meanwhile, Thomas Lippman noted in the Washington Post that time for progress could quickly slip away: Britain and other nations with peacekeeping troops were threatening to pull out, and another cold winter without fuel was around the corner in a capital whose people had already burned stair railings, furniture, park trees, and even books for warmth.29

Secretary of State Christopher released a statement, saying he was “shocked and saddened by the tragic death” of Robert Frasure, the chief US negotiator and a twenty-one-year veteran of the Foreign Service.30 In the following days, newspapers lauded Joseph Kruzel’s Harvard graduate degrees, ran pictures of Nelson Drew’s grief-stricken children, and showed Bob’s daughters at Andrews Air Force Base, where a military cargo plane had delivered the flag-draped coffins. One girl, waiting for the subsequent ceremony to conclude, held hands with her mother. The other sat with her arms in her lap, her head bowed.

37. INSIDE: Boys Pretending

An armored van carried me to a modest building on a side street in the heart of Sarajevo. Budi Moj Prijatelj (be my friend) was a center that, as its informational material said, “helped children realize their dreams and cultivate the tradition of a tolerant and multicultural Sarajevo.” That was a tall order, given all that these young ones had suffered, and during such a delicate developmental time in their lives.

I walked by the small playground and into the building. The shattered windows were held together with tape. As soon as I stepped into the hallway, a gaggle of children raced over. Chattering excitedly, they flocked around me, their much-anticipated guest.

After the initial confusion, I was escorted to a classroom on my left, where I sat down to watch a skit prepared by half a dozen boys. Their teacher told me that they would now dramatize one of the many fruitless peace talks among power brokers. How on earth, I wondered, could children know about such high-level politics? But clearly they understood that their young lives hung on those talks.

The budding actors came from all ethnic groups, but little did they care about that. The distinctions now so common to journalists and other outsiders were not even part of their vocabulary. (I heard of married couples who, until the war, weren’t aware of each other’s ethnic backgrounds.)

All the children were receiving counseling and special attention. After the inhumanity they had witnessed, several were uncontrollable. Others were withdrawn. Some were orphaned, some disabled. Most had trouble concentrating. Many were disoriented, now living in an unfamiliar city. But that hour the boys were focused on a map of Bosnia spread across a table. Suddenly, they had become the leaders of France, the United States, Russia, Germany, and Japan. A prepubescent Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin, Klaus Kinkel, and Yasushi Akashi pored over boundaries, arguing about how to divide up the Yugoslav territory.

The young political leaders pounded their fists, their voices increasingly strident and strong. Back and forth they yelled. Finally, as if begrudging their agreement, they violently shook hands.

A litany of individual proclamations ensued as, one after another, they grabbed the mike. Faces twisted in dark grimaces, they seemed oblivious to their audience, caught up in their anger. Shouts, distorted and shrill, pierced our ears.

I looked at my interpreter, who had grown quiet. “What are they saying?” I whispered.

“Those aren’t words,” she shrugged. “They’re just making noises.”

38. OUTSIDE: Bombs and Bluffs

The summer of 1995 brought a new military scene. The accident on Mt. Igman had set the stage for action by American officials. As well, it was increasingly evident to the international community that the status quo was not only ineffective, it was deadly: to UN troops, to Bosnian civilians, and to the reputation of multinational bodies committed to peace and security.

Three years of deployment in the Balkans had produced 167 fatalities and close to twelve hundred were wounded in UNPROFOR, the UN Protection Force.31 That and CNN coverage of peacekeepers handcuffed to NATO targets, such as radar sites and bridges, had forced the UN to acknowledge that it could not protect its own troops with air coverage alone. In June, the UN agreed to a Rapid Reaction Force to give credibility to a badly damaged UNPROFOR mission. The force consisted of ten thousand heavily armed troops, mostly British and French, who entered Bosnia with helicopter gunships, armored vehicles, and field artillery. The United States contributed artillery-locating communication devices, navigation systems using global positioning satellites, night-vision gear, helicopters, and intelligence-gathering equipment.32

Of course, US support for military options throughout the war had been little and late. And even when Americans had participated, their formidable resources did not translate into impressive action. I had noted this discrepancy when flying over the Adriatic on a plane used to reequip the US warship Dwight D. Eisenhower. Complete with a hospital, hotel, and, obviously, airport, the aircraft carrier was a floating city. Its planes and equipment and the five thousand sailors on board were part of Operation Deny Flight, the NATO enforcement of the no-fly zone over Bosnia. Some credited this operation with containment of the war. But the planes circling over the genocide month after month were failing to take out the aggressors’ heavy weapons.

At least now the gravity of the war, brought to the fore by Srebrenica, was sinking into the consciousness of the Western world. Admiral Leighton “Snuffy” Smith Jr., commander in chief of NATO’s Allied Forces in Southern Europe, observed that “the fall of Srebrenica… for the Serbs, was a tactical victory, but a strategic defeat.” Indeed, ten days after the massacre, British Prime Minister John Major announced: “We’ve reached a turning point…. We cannot afford different noises from different capitals.”33 He went on to indicate British support for the US-proposed air strikes, saying that the Bosnian Serbs should be made to “pay a very high price” if they attacked another safe haven.

On 28 August, General Rupert Smith pulled UN forces out of the remaining eastern enclaves. NATO air action was now possible without fear of UN troop casualties from Serb counterattack or friendly fire.

Meanwhile, Croatian President Tuđman had launched a stunningly successful four-day blitzkrieg, taking back the Krajina region of Croatia and reversing the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Serb forces four years earlier. Tuđman’s hands were not unsullied. Some two hundred thousand Croatian Serbs were forced from or fled their homes; many who remained were killed or tortured.

At the same time, Federation troops (the Bosniak and Croat armies) began a similar northward push in Bosnia. Hundreds of thousands of Serb refugees from both offensives streamed into the Serb stronghold of Banja Luka, in northwest Bosnia.

Serb forces in the west were whipped. With desertion rates high and climbing, and morale crushed, they had little capacity to stand and fight.

At this point, Federation troops could have chased the Serb military completely out of the northern part of Bosnia and reunified the country. But such a rout would have produced more Serb refugees. And that tidal wave of humanity into an already strained Serbia would have revealed Milošević’s weakness to his countrymen and possibly spelled the end of his by-then brittle regime. US officials were anxious to preserve Milošević as a negotiating partner. (Unlike him, Karadžić and Mladić had been indicted for war crimes on 24 July. They would have been arrested at the border.) The negotiation team was pragmatic: better the devil they knew.

Moreover, the international community had agreed to an earlier Contact Group plan that meant yielding any further gains back to the Serbs. If the Federation was successful in driving out the Serbs, the plan would have demanded that Izetbegović turn over to them much of what his troops had just reclaimed.

Thus, astonishingly, Americans intervened to halt a full Federation victory. Assistant Secretary Holbrooke demanded that the Federation troops halt before Banja Luka. In fact, Izetbegović claimed that the United States threatened airstrikes on Bosnian troops if they marched on Banja Luka.

On 28 August, Serb shelling of a Sarajevo market killed thirty-seven more civilians. Given new resolve by Clinton and Major, that atrocity was the last straw. Two days later, NATO and the UN put behind them years of hesitation and humiliation by launching a “peace enforcement” campaign—with more military engagement than peacekeeping. Breaking the siege of Sarajevo was the centerpiece of the operation. But even if the city were opened, the NATO attacks would continue, Clinton and Major promised, until all parties agreed to come to the negotiating table.

Nearly three hundred NATO aircraft commenced Operation Deliberate Force, targeting Serb storage depots, armories, repair facilities, and command and control nodes. On 30 August, President Clinton fielded reporters’ questions about US bombs hitting Serb targets in Bosnia. Instead of sitting at his Oval Office desk, he was interviewed as if in passing, standing in a parking lot in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, wearing a polo shirt. He appeared to be downplaying the seriousness of the US action.

Perhaps that lower key was intentional, given Moscow’s objections. Foreign Service colleagues had often reminded me that Bosnia was a B-level crisis compared to the A-level importance of relations with Russia. It seemed to me, however, that robust support for what was right in a lower priority situation would send a clear message of strength to our challengers at any level.

The most vigorous NATO attack was against the city of Banja Luka on 11 September. In addition, the United States launched thirteen Tomahawk cruise missiles at key Serbian military targets. By now, Serb command headquarters and all major defense posts had been destroyed.

Immediately afterward, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin met with NATO representatives in Brussels to emphatically condemn the UNNATO action. He was not alone in his concern about America’s relationship with Russia. In an absurd concession, State Department press guidance on 12 September read: “We share the Russian opinion that there is no military solution.” Nonetheless, a mere two days later, the siege of Sarajevo was over. The air operation was proving a success.

I wrote President Clinton, insisting that letting up on the bombing would be, paradoxically, our most violent option. He wrote back on 14 September: “We must press forward with the work of Bob Frasure, Joe Kruzel and Nelson Drew, who gave their lives trying to find a solution to the terrible conflict in the Balkans.”

39. INSIDE: Side by Side

With so much focus on extraordinarily bad individuals, some people were, thankfully, also focusing on the extraordinarily good. Svetlana Broz, granddaughter of Josip Broz (Marshal Tito), maintained such a perspective. An author and cardiologist, Broz was thirty-seven when she volunteered her services in Bosnia at the outset of the war. In 2000, Broz moved permanently to Sarajevo—a city that, she said, had “kept its soul intact” even during years of siege. Intent on helping to preserve the country her grandfather once led, Broz became a Bosnian citizen in 2004.

The doctor conceived and now heads the Sarajevo branch of Gardens of the Righteous Worldwide, encouraging the creation of parks, woods, and gardens to honor and memorialize those who resisted evil and saved the threatened.

During the war, as Dr. Broz treated the wounded and ill across Bosnia, she noticed people’s need to disclose their stories. She began to collect accounts in earnest, traveling many miles to record the memories of people from all parts of society. What she found were tales of honor and courage amid criminal bestiality. But before Broz was able to publish the book she’d titled Good People in an Evil Time, her home in Belgrade was robbed and her manuscript stolen. Undeterred, Broz set out to recompile her material, preserving for history representatives of the good people who defied the suffering and division.

One such individual was Ilija Jurisic, a Bosnian Croat in Tuzla, who told stories of want and generosity:

I’d known Hasib, a Muslim man from Brcko, since 1997. We were inseparable. Both of us were retired school principals, but when the war began, we volunteered to defend Tuzla.

Being in the army didn’t mean we had food. Days went by when all we could do was complain and comfort each other. There just wasn’t enough to go around. Tuzla was in a desperate state of siege, with terrible starvation. Elderly people rummaged though garbage cans at dawn, looking for remnants. The joy in their eyes when they found a morsel was sad.

One day, a reserve officer named Jusuf appeared at our door, from the village of Koraj. “Do you have anything to eat?” he inquired. We were delighted anyone even bothered to ask.

“Oh, we get a little here or there,” we said softly, embarrassed.

“Do you have any corn?”

“No, that’s an abstraction,” I answered, off the cuff.

“Would you like me to see if I can find some in the countryside?”

“That’s really too much to ask. But if you did come up with a pound or two, we’d be very grateful,” I said.

He didn’t answer but left soon. A few days later, someone brought us a message, “A package has come for you and Hasib.” We were astonished. With the city under siege and no one able to get out, where could this have come from?

“What kind of package?” Hasib asked.

The times were so crazy. “You think it’s explosives, don’t you?” I said to him.

We picked up the package. It was a sack, tied with a note: “I’m sending my friends corn so they can distribute it to others. Jusuf.”

There were about sixty-six pounds of kernels. A treasure! We were confused, feeling like we were taking something that wasn’t ours yet grateful that our new friend had remembered us. There was no electricity in the city, so you could grind corn only at a mill. Since there was no gasoline, we hauled our fortune by foot the eight miles to Bozo’s mill, dragging it on a sled across the snow.

While the millstones ground the kernels into flour, we figured how much would be left once the miller took his part. In the middle of our calculations, Bozo interrupted us. “There, it’s done. I won’t take my part. I can tell that you good people are in a difficult situation. It was an honor to help you out. Well, time for lunch.”

I leapt up and kissed him. It was incredible. That man had given up almost seven pounds of flour and left it to us. And what’s more, he invited us, who’d been starving, to lunch—two men he’d never met before.

We hurried back to town, thinking how we would surprise our families, and being careful not to let the sled tip over. In front of the sports center we ran into Alma, the wife of a colleague. Her daughter had been on a sled that was hit by a car. She was lying at home in a cast, with a fractured hip. When she heard about our day, Alma burst into tears. “I’m on my way to see my brother. I don’t have anything to bring him, because I have nothing myself. And I’m so worried about him. He has no food, no firewood….”

As she was speaking, we remembered the time her son had hidden a piece of bread under his pillow because he was afraid his sister would eat it while he was at school. ‘Alma, take half this flour,” said Hasib.

Stories like this are endless. Still, later I was interviewed by an international team about whether it’s possible for different ethnic groups to live side by side in Tuzla. “If we can share our food when we’re starving, why do you think we can’t live next to each other?” I responded.34

40. OUTSIDE: Decisions at Dayton

Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, 1 November 1995. After twenty-two days of NATO air campaign bombing and three years of war, the parties of the Balkan conflict gathered to negotiate a settlement. Making clear their direct involvement in the conflict, Croatia’s President Tuđman and Serbia’s President Milošević went head to head with Bosnia’s President Izetbegović.The setting was ideal: a heartland city; an impressive collection of American armaments; eight thousand acres of military base; no-frills visiting officers’ quarters clustered around a rectangular parking lot; and all of it far from the probing eyes of the press. The process was initiated by President Clinton, guided by Secretary of State Christopher, and carried out by Assistant Secretary Holbrooke.

Part of Holbrooke’s strength was his willingness to go beyond sound bite explanations for the war. He was not afraid to label something raw greed. Nor was he blind to blatant politicizing. In his account of the negotiation, he describes “the stupidity of the war.” As an example, the three interpreters’ booths—Channel 4 “Bosnian,” Channel 5 “Croatian,” and Channel 6 “Serbian”—all broadcast the same interpreter.35

Through Dayton’s back corridors of power, Holbrooke navigated the flow of laborious discussions and unashamed posturing. Generals briefed presidents. Foreign ministers vied for the limelight. Perpetrators and survivors alike pored over maps, dazzled by three-dimensional, digitized imagery, courtesy of US intelligence agencies.

Holbrooke, who later reflected on his “Big Bang approach to negotiations,”36 used his considerable prowess and persuasion to force a deal. But some at Dayton were dismayed as they watched the process unfold. According to their reports, Milošević was such a practiced bluffer that sometimes even Holbrooke was bested. The Serb’s diplomatic gaming led to a losing hand for Bosnians for the next decade and beyond—and left Milošević himself temporarily unbruised.

After twenty days of intense talks, the delegates initialed a peace agreement. President Clinton flew out for the ceremony, where an array of colorful flags of the participating countries were displayed behind a long table draped in blood red.

The agreement brought enormous relief as, finally, the shooting would stop. But many who had day-to-day contact with the warring parties considered the result deeply flawed. For example, while there were clauses declaring the “right to liberty of movement and residence” and promising the “prosecution of war crimes,” the toothless Dayton agreement established no clear mechanism of enforcement for either.

More specifically, critics noted two striking casualties: a multiethnic society and a unified Bosnian state. The new government would enshrine the three ethnic categories trumpeted by warmongers. Over the dogged objection of Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdžić, the final agreement mandated multiple legislative divisions and a weak troika of presidents. The structure, further burdened by veto-wielding bureaucratic layers, guaranteed political paralysis.

Bosnian ministries and embassies were to be headed only by individuals who identified themselves as Serb, Croat, or Bosniak. This deplorable formula forced those with mixed parentage to declare themselves as members of one group or another, and it froze out smaller minorities, such as Jews. Progressive individuals unwilling to identify themselves by ethnicity were also locked out of the political process. Such a structure played into the hands of ultranationalists, who used their newfound political legitimacy to obstruct the rebuilding of a tolerant, integrated society.

Inside the borders of Bosnia, vestiges of the three separate militaries were allowed to linger for years. And most shamefully, the United States abetted the Serbs in achieving a major war aim: dividing Bosnia. Perpetrators of torture, expulsion, and murder were rewarded with their own political entity on Bosnian soil, brashly declared the Serb Republic (Republika Srpska). Dayton’s designers insisted verbally that the area would be ethnically mixed. A Bosniak or Croat survivor who had been forced out of his or her home was legally allowed to return, but into a community now called Serb and controlled by nationalists.37

But such were the spoils of genocide. The thief, caught, was punished by having half of what he had plundered taken away.

Collecting initials from Tuđman, Milošević, and Izetbegović was hailed as a diplomatic triumph. However, the United States of America was now in the position of creating an agreement that rewarded villains and set up the subsequent war in Kosovo. Thus, the harsh reality was that although his military operation on the ground had failed, at Dayton Milošević prevailed.

Next Chapter


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.