Srebrenica atrocities: evidence of US complicity


For years, the role of the United States in conniving with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in the destruction of the Bosnian Muslim town of Srebrenica has been shrouded in mystery.

When heavily armed Bosnian Serb nationalists seized the town from Dutch United Nations "peace-keepers" in July 1995, along with expelling tens of thousands of Muslims, they led away 8000 men and boys and slaughtered them in captivity, the largest single massacre in Europe since World War II.

Now the "smoking gun" is being uncovered. Richard Holbrooke, who at the time was assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration, recently revealed in an interview with French magazine Paris-Match that his initial instructions from US national security adviser Anthony Lake were to sacrifice the three remaining Muslim "enclaves" in East Bosnia — Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde — to the Serb nationalists, led by indicted war criminals General Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

Holbrooke claims he rejected the instructions, but in the past he has emphasised his rejection only of pressure to abandon Gorazde, leaving the question of the other two unclear — till now.

The same issue of Paris-Match also had an interview with the chief prosecutor of The Hague Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who claims that Western officials held a meeting with Milosevic, Karadzic and Mladic in 1995, to discuss the plans to seize Srebrenica. She said there were minutes of the meeting and that she knew the names of the officials, but was unable to use this as evidence because they refused to confirm their attendance.

The appalling performance by the United Nations and NATO powers — which had thousands of troops all over Bosnia — in refusing to lift a finger to protect the Muslim population of Srebrenica, a UN-designated "safe area", has long been heavily criticised.

After watching the conquest of Srebrenica, the UN and NATO then did the same as Mladic's henchman overran Zepa, another "safe area", expelling thousands more people. While the Serb nationalists advanced on Zepa, the UN issued a warning that it would be very upset if they then turned on Gorazde, the last of the three pockets where dispossessed Muslims were still holding out. Muslims had been the majority of the population throughout all of East Bosnia before the massive wave of ethnic cleansing had driven most of them from this region in 1992.

In Gorazde, the Muslims turned on UN forces and seized their arms. They put up a good fight and kept out the Serb nationalists — who called themselves "Chetniks" after the anti-Communist Serb fighters of World War II who fought against Tito's Communist "Partisans".

The betrayal of Srebrenica and Zepa was all the worse considering that the UN had forced the local Bosnian militia to hand over its weapons in 1993 in return for "safe area" designation. Meanwhile, throughout the war, the UN and NATO imposed an arms embargo on the whole beleaguered Bosnian Republic.

A number of aspects have long suggested that what was involved was not merely betrayal due to cluelessness, lethargy or not caring, but rather active collusion of top imperialist powers with the Serbian Chetniks and their boss, Milosevic.

The sacking and massacre of Srebrenica was followed soon after by the US-imposed Dayton Accord, which ended the war by accepting the Serb nationalist program of ethnic partition. Bosnia was divided into two halves, a "Serb Republic", based on recognition of the results of ethnic cleansing, and a "Muslim-Croat federation". Bosnia's battle to retain a multi-ethnic character had been defeated.

Significantly, Srebrenica and Zepa, though only just seized and "cleansed", were quietly handed to the Serb Republic, as if nothing had just happened.

The US had been pushing this 50-50 partition of Bosnia since mid-1994, but the Bosnian Serb leadership had put up some objections. While the map already included the whole of cleansed East Bosnia in their "state", it did not yet include the three remaining Muslim "enclaves". The Serb nationalists wanted them, and also wanted a widening of the northern "corridor", which cut through previously Muslim and Croat majority regions to join east Bosnia to the other half of their "state" in the north-west. Both demands were accepted by the US at Dayton.

Meanwhile, Croatia urged its Bosnian Croat satellites to sign on, which meant giving up the ethnic "state" they had also carved out of Bosnia in alliance with the Serb nationalists. They would now have to join it with Bosnian government-held regions to form a "Muslim-Croat federation". The US feared that if both Serbs and Croats had their own "states", what would remain would be a tiny, landlocked, embittered Muslim state where a million or so ethnically cleansed Muslims would form a "Gaza in Europe" with all its attendant instability. Croatia would be entrusted by the US and Europe to police the Muslims.

In exchange for dropping the Bosnian Croat "state", Croatian leader Franco Tudjman wanted the end of the "Serb Republic of Krajina", about a third of Croatian territory that had been conquered and ethnically cleansed of hundreds of thousands of Croats in 1991.

What both the Serb-held Krajina and the Muslim enclaves in East Bosnia had in common was that they were odd bits of ethnic territory sticking out in the wrong places: East Bosnia, despite its Muslim majority, was near Serbia's border, while Krajina, despite its Serb majority, was the furthest part of Croatia from Serbia.

To enhance the stability of the Milosevic-Tudjman deal to divide the region between them, the US tended to agree that the map needed some "tidying up" to reduce its ethnic "messiness". The fact that the US gave the green light to Tudjman to seize the Krajina in August 1995, driving out its entire 150,000-strong Serb population, is well documented.

Milosevic also gave Tudjman the green light, having little need for an economically useless piece of rugged land far from the consolidated chunk of "smaller Greater Serbia" he was being offered.

But till now little light has been shone on the US go-ahead to Milosevic, and to the Bosnian Serb Chetniks, to seize Srebrenica and Zepa.

The revelations cast new light on Holbrooke's statement after Dayton that Milosevic was someone Washington "could do business with".

It also fits with other recent statements by Holbrooke, which revealed that behind the US intervention, formally against Karadzic's forces, was the fear that the excesses of the Chetniks — who had conquered 70% of Bosnia despite Serbs being only 30% of the population — were leading to a radicalisation among the dispossessed Bosnian Muslims.

In a Washington Post article entitled "Was Bosnia worth it?" Holbrooke asserted that if the US had not intervened in 1995, "we would probably have had to pursue Operation Enduring Freedom not only in Afghanistan but also in the deep ravines and dangerous hills of central Bosnia, where a shadowy organization we now know as Al Qaeda was putting down roots that were removed by NATO after Dayton".

The idea that al Qaeda had more than a marginal role in the desperation of Bosnia is fanciful, and a slander against the Bosnian Muslims. However, the fact that Holbrooke feels compelled to describe in this way the growing radicalisation among the Muslims, who had been left to the slaughter in the middle of Europe for years in the 1990s, indicates the degree of worry this was causing Washington.

Muhamed Sacirbey, Bosnia's foreign minister at the time, commented that "for many years, I believed that the West gave an orange light to the Serbs to take over Srebrenica, but I am now convinced that it was a green light".