Siege of Sarajevo: Wikis


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Siege of Sarajevo
Part of the Bosnian War
Bosnian parliament building burns after being hit by Serbian tank fire.
Date April 5, 1992[1] - February 29, 1996[2]
Location Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Result Siege lifted due to the Dayton Agreement, numerous civilian casualties.
Bosnia and Herzegovina Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina
NATO (1995)
Yugoslavia Yugoslav People's Army (1992)
Republika Srpska Army of Republika Srpska (1992-95)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Mustafa Hajrulahović Talijan
Bosnia and Herzegovina Vahid Karavelić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Nedžad Ajnadžić
Yugoslavia Milutin Kukanjac (Mar - Jul 1992)
Republika Srpska Tomislav Šipčić (Jul-Sep 1992)
Republika Srpska Stanislav Galić (Sep 1992-Aug 1994)
Republika Srpska Dragomir Milošević (Aug 1994- Feb 1996)
40,000 (1992) 30,000 (1992)
Casualties and losses
6,305+ soldiers killed[3] 2,687+ soldiers killed[4]
Civilians: 10,000 killed/missing, 56,000 wounded

The Siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.[5][6] Serb forces of the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska and the Yugoslav People's Army besieged Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina, from April 5, 1992 to February 29, 1996 during the Bosnian War.

After Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Serbs, whose strategic goal was to create a new Serbian State of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include part of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina[7], encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000[8] stationed in the surrounding hills, from which they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles.[8] From May 2, 1992, the Serbs blockaded the city. The Bosnian government defence forces numbering roughly 40,000 inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege.

It is estimated that nearly 10,000 people were killed or went missing in the city, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children.[9][10][11] By 1995, killings and forced migration had reduced the city’s population to 334,663 - 64% of its prewar size.[12]

After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Serb generals of numerous crimes against humanity in their conduct of the siege. Stanislav Galić[13] and Dragomir Milošević[14], were sentenced to life imprisonment and to 33 years imprisonment, respectively. One of the 11 indictments against former president of Repbulika Srpska Radovan Karadžić is for the siege.[15] The prosecution alleged in an opening statement that:

"The siege of Sarajevo, as it came to be popularly known, was an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death. In the period covered in this Indictment, there was nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school, in a hospital, from deliberate attack."[16]



From its creation following World War II, the government of Yugoslavia kept a close watch on nationalism among the Yugoslav peoples, as it could have led to chaos and the breakup of the state. With the death of Yugoslavia's longtime leader, Marshal Tito, in 1980, this policy of containment took a dramatic reversal.

The legislation for, and formation of a multi party democracy, which was, even then, in 1988, a requirement of the UNCHR(UN Convention on Human Rights), by the Milosevich FRY government, was a substantial contributory factor in the break up.

Start of the war

Following the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia on March 3, 1992, sporadic fighting broke out between Serbs and government forces all across the territory. It continued through the run-up to Bosnia and Herzegovina's recognition as a sovereign independent state.[17]

On March 2, Serb paramilitaries had set up barricades and sniper positions near Sarajevo’s parliament building, but the threatened military coup was thwarted by thousands of Sarajevo citizens who took to the streets in front of the snipers.[18]

On April 5, Serbian policemen attacked police stations and then an Interior Ministry training school. The attack killed two officers and one civilian. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared a state of emergency the following day.[19] Later that day Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo repeated their action of the previous month. A crowd of peace marchers, between 50,000 and 100,000 Bosnians of all ethnic groups, rallied in protest.[18] As the largest section moved towards the parliament building, Serb gunmen firing from the Serbian Democratic Party headquarters killed two young women in the crowd, Suada Dilberović and Olga Sučić.[20] They are regarded as the first casualties of the siege.[21] Vrbanja Bridge, where they were killed, has since been renamed in their honor.

On April 6, twelve European Community foreign ministers announced that their countries recognized the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[22] Recognition by the United States followed the next day.[19]

Territories controlled by Army of Republika Srpska and Army of Serb Krajina

Shortly after the European Community recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state, armed conflict broke out. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the Ministry of Training Academy in Vrace, the central tramway depot, and the Old Town district with mortars, artillery and tank fire, and also seized control of Sarajevo’s airport.[23] The Bosnian government had expected the international community to deploy a peacekeeping force following recognition, but it did not materialize in time to prevent war breaking out across the country.

Serb and JNA forces overwhelmed the poorly equipped government security forces to take control of large areas of Bosnian territory, beginning with attacks on Bosniak civilians in Eastern Bosnia. Serb military, police and paramilitary forces attacked towns and villages and then, sometimes assisted by Serb inhabitants, applied what soon became their standard operating procedure: Bosniak houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burned; civilians rounded up, some beaten or killed; and men separated from the women. Many of the men were forcibly removed to prison camps. The women were separately incarcerated in detention centres where they suffered extremely unhygienic conditions and numerous atrocious abuses. Many were repeatedly raped. Survivors testified that Serb soldiers and police would visit the detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them.[24] The initiated ethnic cleansing was shortly there after followed up by both the Muslim and Croat parts to participate in the atrocities first both against the Serbs and later on against each other.

On April 22, a peace rally in front of the Republic Assembly building was broken up by shots that came from the Holiday Inn.[23] By the end of April, the form of the siege was largely established.

Early fighting for the city

A map of the JNA attack on May 2, 1992.

In the months leading up to the war, JNA forces in the region began to mobilize in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. Artillery, together with other ordnance and equipment that would prove key in the coming siege of the city, was deployed at this time. In April 1992, the Bosnian government under President Alija Izetbegović demanded that the government of Yugoslavia remove these forces. Slobodan Milošević, the president of Serbia, agreed only to withdraw individuals who originated from outside Bosnia's borders, an insignificant number.[25] Bosnian Serb forces in the JNA were transferred to the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) under General Ratko Mladić, the VRS having rescinded its allegiance to Bosnia a few days after Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia.

On May 2, 1992, Bosnian Serb forces established a total blockade of the city. They blocked the major access roads, cutting supplies of food and medicine, and also cut off the city's utilities (e.g. water, electricity, and heating). Although they possessed superior weaponry they were outnumbered by Sarajevo's defenders, and attacks by JNA armored columns failed to take the city. Therefore the Serbs concentrated their efforts on weakening it by continual bombardment from at least two hundred reinforced positions and bunkers in the surrounding hills.

The siege of Sarajevo

Russian soldier and politician Dmitry Rogozin discussing the role of Russian volunteers with Bosnian Serb Army leader Ratko Mladić in besieged Sarajevo, January 1996
The former building of Sarajevo newspaper Oslobođenje. For years after the siege it remained as a memorial
Overall view of downtown Grbavica, a suburb of Sarajevo.

The second half of 1992 and first half of 1993 were the height of the siege of Sarajevo, and atrocities were committed during heavy fighting. Serbian forces outside the city continuously shelled the government defenders. Inside the city, the Serbs controlled most of the major military positions and the supply of arms. With snipers taking up positions in the city, signs reading Pazite, Snajper! ("Beware, Sniper!") became commonplace and certain particularly dangerous streets were known as "sniper alleys". The sniper killings of Admira Ismić and Boško Brkić, a couple who tried to cross the lines, became a symbol of the suffering in the city. [26][27]

Serbian offensives were mounted to take over some neighborhoods, especially in Novo Sarajevo. To counterbalance the siege, Sarajevo Airport was opened to United Nations (UN) airlifts in late June 1992; Sarajevo's survival became strongly dependent on them.

Compared with the siege force, the Bosnian government forces were very poorly armed. Bosnian black market criminals who joined the army at the outset of the war illegally smuggled arms into the city through Serb lines, and raids on Serb-held positions within the city yielded more. The Sarajevo Tunnel, completed in mid-1993, and a major asset in bypassing the international arms embargo (applied to all parties to the Bosnian conflict, including the defenders of Sarajevo), helped supplies and weaponry to reach the city's defenders and enabled some inhabitants to leave. The tunnel was said to have saved Sarajevo. However, by April 1995 there were only 20 artillery pieces and five tanks left in defence of the city. The strength of the First Corps lay in its considerable supplies of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank missiles, but they could not really be used in the offensive actions needed to break out of Sarajevo.[28]

Reports indicated an average of approximately 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on July 22, 1993. This urbicide by shellfire extensively damaged the city's structures, including civilian and cultural property. By September 1993, reports concluded that virtually all the buildings in Sarajevo had suffered some degree of damage, and 35,000 were completely destroyed. Among buildings targeted and destroyed were hospitals and medical complexes, media and communication centers, industrial targets, government buildings, and military and UN facilities. Additional significant buildings included that of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina; also the National Library, which burned to the ground along with thousands of irreplaceable texts.

The shelling took a heavy toll on lives in the city. Mass killings of civilians, primarily by mortar attacks, made headline news in the West. On June 1, 1993, 15 people died and 80 were injured in an attack on a football game. On July 12 of the same year, 12 people were killed while waiting in line for water. The biggest single loss of life was the first Markale marketplace massacre on February 5, 1994, with 68 civilians killed and 200 wounded. The scale of civilian casualties left medical facilities overstretched, and only a small proportion of the wounded benefited from medical evacuation programmes like 1993's Operation Irma.[29]

In response to the Markale massacre, the UN issued an ultimatum and a deadline for the Serb forces to withdraw their heavy weaponry beyond a given line or face air strikes. Near the expiry of the deadline the Serbs complied, which resulted in a drastic reduction in shelling. This marked the beginning of the end of the siege.

NATO intervention

Norwegian UN soldier at the Sarajevo airport in 1992.

In 1995 the international forces firmly turned against the besiegers after the second Markale massacre, in which 37 people were killed and 90 wounded. When Serb forces raided a UN-monitored weapons collection site, NATO jets attacked Bosnian Serb ammunition depots and other strategic military targets. Fighting escalated on the ground as joint Bosnian and Croatian forces went on the offensive. The Serbs were slowly driven back in Sarajevo and elsewhere, which eventually allowed the city's heating, electricity, and water supplies to be restored.

A cease fire was reached in October 1995. On December 14, 1995 the Dayton Agreement brought peace to the country and led to stabilization. The Bosnian government officially declared an end to the siege of Sarajevo on February 29, 1996, when Serbian forces left positions in and around the city.


Civilian Casualties

The Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery Kovači for victims of the war in Stari Grad.
Funeral of a civilian killed in Sarajevo.

A large number of Sarajevans were killed or wounded with regularity throughout the siege.[30] A report on the total numbers of persons killed over a span of 315 days concluded a total of 2,474 persons were reported killed, totaling an average of approximately eight killed in the city per day.[31] A report on the total number of persons wounded over a span of 306 days concluded that a total of 13,472 persons were reported wounded, totaling an average of approximately 44 wounded per day.[32] It should be noted that actual daily casualty numbers in Sarajevo are probably higher than reported, as the varied centralized city casualty counts relied upon may not include many victims who are taken to district morgues and clinics.

It is estimated that nearly 10,000 persons have been killed or are missing in the city. This total includes over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 persons have been wounded, including nearly 15,000 children.[9][33][34] By 1995, killings and forced migration had reduced the city’s population to 334,663 - 64% of its prewar size.[35]

The siege affected all sectors of Sarajevo's population. UNICEF reported that of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city: at least 40 percent had been directly shot at by snipers; 51 percent had seen someone killed; 39 percent had seen one or more family members killed; 19 percent had witnessed a massacre; 48 percent had their home occupied by someone else; 73 percent have had their home attacked or shelled; and 89 percent had lived in underground shelters. It is probable that the psychological trauma suffered during the siege will bear heavily on the lives of these children in the years to come.

As a result of the high number of casualties and the wartime conditions present, makeshift cemeteries appear throughout Sarajevo and its surrounding areas. Parks, athletic fields, and other open spaces have been utilized as graveyards. One such site is the sports complex built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.

The siege has also had a profound effect on the psyche and future of the city's population. The Bosnian Government has reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50 percent drop in births since the siege began.

Structural and property damage and destruction

Reminder of destruction: one of the city's many Sarajevo Roses.
Heavily damaged apartment buildings near Vrbanja bridge in the Grbavica district on the left bank of Miljacka river.

The structural and property damage in Sarajevo as a result of the siege included specifically protected targets such as hospitals and medical complexes, medical facilities (including ambulances) and medical personnel, as well as cultural property, such as the manuscript collection of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, one of the richest collections of Oriental manuscripts in the world.[36] Furthermore, there were attacks upon civilian property which were not justified by military necessity and were equally prohibited. The Bosnian government estimated that shelling destroyed over 10,000 apartments and damaged over 100,000 others. Of the other buildings in the city, 23 percent were reported as seriously damaged, 64 percent as partially damaged and 10 per cent as slightly damaged. In its report, the Council of Europe's Committee on Culture and Education commented on the structural damage in the city.[37] The Committee stated:

"It is plain that Sarajevo has suffered badly at the hands of its attackers. Apart from the obvious human cost in the continued suffering and difficulties of day to day living, there has been serious damage to the urban fabric. The infrastructure (drainage, electricity, telephone services, etc.) is badly damaged. Most buildings are damaged significantly and probably all buildings are damaged to a greater or lesser degree (broken glass etc.). Some buildings have been completely destroyed including ancient monuments (such as the Library) and including a number of modern steel framed buildings (such as the Unis Building) which in some cases have simply collapsed. 35,000 dwellings are also assessed to have been destroyed during the past year."[37]

Sarajevo has made a substantial recovery in terms of the number of buildings that have been fully restored and reoccupied. However, as of 2005, many buildings remained heavily damaged and scarred.

Although the city had been a model for inter-ethnic relations, the siege brought dramatic population shifts. In addition to the thousands of refugees who left the city, many Sarajevo Serbs left for the Republika Srpska, and the percentage of Serbs in Sarajevo decreased from more than 30% in 1991 to slightly over 10% in 2002. Regions of Novo Sarajevo that are now part of the Republika Srpska have formed East Sarajevo, where much of the prewar Serbian population lives today.

New construction projects and foreign capital investment have made Sarajevo perhaps the fastest-growing city in the former Yugoslavia. The population grew to 401,000 in 2002, which is 20,000 short of pre-1991 census estimate.

ICTY convictions

On December 5, 2003 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted the first commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, Stanislav Galić, of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo, including the first Markale massacre.[13] General Galić was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crimes against humanity during the siege.[13] In 2007, Dragomir Milošević,[14] the Serb general who replaced Galić as commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, was found guilty of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo and its citizens from August 1994 to late 1995, including the second Markale massacre. Milošević was sentenced to 33 years in prison. The ICTY concluded that the Markale town market was hit on August 28, 1995 by a 120 mm mortar shell fired from Sarajevo-Romanija Corps positions.[14]

In popular culture

Vedran Smailović playing in the partially destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992.

See also

Sarajevo Tunnel


  1. ^ April 5, 1992 was the date of the first attack on Sarajevo by the JNA and Serb paramilitaries and is as such considered the beginning of the siege. But, as early as March 1, 1992, barricades and armed gunmen started appearing on the streets of Sarajevo.
  2. ^ February 29, 1996 was the official end to the siege as declared by the Bosnian government. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords on November 21, 1995 and the Paris Protocol on December 14, 1995. The reason that the siege was not declared as over was because the Serbs had not yet implemented the Dayton deal which required them to withdraw from areas north and west of Sarajevo as well as other parts of the city. The Serbs also violated the Dayton peace by firing a rocket propelled grenade at a Sarajevo tram on January 9, 1996 killing 1 and wounding 19.
  3. ^ The Research and Documentation Center (RDC)
  4. ^ The Research and Documentation Center (RDC)
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b Times Online, retrieved on April 4 2009
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ History of Sarajevo
  13. ^ a b c "ICTY: Stanislav Galić judgement". ICTY. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  14. ^ a b c "ICTY: Dragomir Milošević judgement". ICTY. 12 November 2009. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  15. ^ Tran, Mark (2 March 2010). "Radovan Karadzic claims Bosnian Muslims 'killed own people' in Sarajevo". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  16. ^ "ICTY: Stanislav Galić judgement and opinion". ICTY. 5 December 2003. Retrieved 3 March 2010. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b Bosnia—A Short History, p. 231, Noel Malcolm, 1994. Macmillan London, ISBN 0-333-61678-2 [1]
  19. ^ a b
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ "U.S. Policymakers on Bosnia Admit Errors in Opposing Partition in 1992", David Binder, New York Times August 29, 1993.
  23. ^ a b [2]
  24. ^ "ICTY: The attack against the civilian population and related requirements". 
  25. ^
  26. ^ MARK H. MILSEIN/Atlantic News Service. "BOSNIA". Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  27. ^ "'Only a bullet' could separate them:Bodies of Sarajevo's 'Romeo and Juliet' come home". CNN. 1996-04-10. Retrieved 2010-02-08. 
  28. ^ Bosnia War History
  29. ^ "Geneva talks (Bosnia)". Keesing's Record of World Events. August 1993. 
  30. ^
  31. ^ Appendix 2, Daily Casualty Totals Reported: Number Killed
  32. ^ Appendix 2, Daily Casualty Totals Reported: Number Wounded
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ History of Sarajevo
  36. ^
  37. ^ a b

External links

Coordinates: 43°50′51″N 18°21′23″E / 43.8476°N 18.3564°E / 43.8476; 18.3564 (Sarajevo)

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