U.N. Says Muslim Defenders Give Up Arms in Srebrenica

The Washington Post
April 22, 1993

TUZLA, Bosnia – Muslim militiamen in the east Bosnian town of Srebrenica have turned over all their weapons to U.N. troops under an agreement to create a “demilitarized” area in the town center, a U.N. officer announced today.

“All the weaponry which is in the demilitarized area has been handed over,” said Brig. Vere Hayes, chief of staff of the U.N. Balkan Protection Force, who mediated the Srebrenica talks. “The area is peaceful, and the population is getting more confident.”

The agreement does not affect areas outside the “demilitarized” zone, which Hayes said is 4 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide — roughly 2 1/2 miles by three-fifths of a mile. This means the front-line Muslim units that have defended the town against besieging Serb forces for nearly a year will not be giving up their weapons, and the Serbs may continue attacking them.

The agreement that went into effect today is more limited than a accord that was announced Sunday and seemed to provide for total demilitarization of the Srebrenica area — in effect, its virtual surrender. That accord was negotiated in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, by senior Muslim and Serb commanders, rather than the fiercely independent local commanders who control the guns in and around Srebrenica.

The big question with this agreement, as with all others in the year-old Serb-Muslim-Croat war, is whether it will be honored. It is also unclear whether a demilitarized Srebrenica — crowded with up to 60,000 Muslim residents and refugees — is viable in the long term, because its survival depends on U.N. aid shipments that the surrounding Serb forces can prevent from entering, as they have often done in the past.

In central Bosnia, meanwhile, fighting between Muslim and Croat forces continued for a sixth day despite successive U.N.-mediated truce agreements. U.N. observers estimated the fighting has killed at least 250 people.

In Belgrade, the capital of neighboring Serbia, the European Community’s mediator in the Bosnian conflict, David Owen, met for nearly three hours with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in an apparent last-ditch effort to bring pressure on the Bosnian Serbs to accept a U.N.-backed peace plan that both the Croat and Muslim factions have signed.

Owen’s spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said he plans to stay in the region until Sunday “to see if something cannot be pulled out” to save the peace plan before stiffened U.N. sanctions against Serbia and the new Yugoslav state it controls take effect on Monday. In New York, meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council decided today to send a five-nation fact-finding mission to Bosnia to check on the situation in Srebrenica.

It was unclear today what would happen if the Serbs violated the Srebrenica accord by shelling the town’s center, which Hayes said has been quiet for several days. Early today, Cmdr. Barry Frewer, spokesman for U.N. forces in Sarajevo, said the 145 Canadian troops in Srebrenica would protect the town if it was attacked. “We have a responsibility for the people in the area. We will defend the enclave,” Frewer said. Until now, the approximately 7,000 U.N. troops in Bosnia have shied away from defending civilians.

Later in the day, however, Frewer appeared to back off, telling the BBC that there had been a “misunderstanding.” He noted that the 145 U.N. troops in Srebrenica are lightly armed and vastly outnumbered by the Serbs who surround the enclave.

Brig. Hayes, in a brief press conference in Tuzla this evening after returning from Srebrenica, referred to the prevailing practice of U.N. troops to fire only if their lives are in danger and said, “There has been no change.”

In a potential sign of Serb goodwill, two Bosnian Serb colonels entered Srebrenica under U.N. protection and conducted face-to-face talks with their Muslim counterparts at the U.N. headquarters in the town’s postal building, Hayes said.

A Muslim officer involved in the talks, Enver Mandzic, said: “We have absolute guarantees from the U.N. that nobody will shell the town, because it is a demilitarized zone.”

Correspondent David Ottaway in Belgrade contributed to this report.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.