New NATO Air Strike After Serbs Shell ‘Safe Areas’
Manila Standard, p.6
26 May 1995.
TUZLA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — In one of the bloodiest days of Bosnia’s war, Serbs responded to a NATO air assault by slamming shells into a crowded cafe in this northern town, killing as many as 70 people.
Retaliatory NATO air strikes seemed likely after Thursday evening’s Serb shell attack in Tuzla and other government-held cities.
“This is a slap in the face of the United Nations and the international community, and the Serbs will have to suffer the consequences,” said UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko. “There is only one option… air power.”
Ejup Ganic, a member of the Bosnian presidency, said 50 civilians died in the Tuzla attack. Tuzla doctors later said up to 70 were dead and 150 were wounded. If true, it would be one of the highest single death counts in more than three years of war.
The United Nations, whose peacekeepers in Tuzla were in shelters, could not confirm the figures. But the shelling hardened new-found UN resolve to respond firmly to Serb defiance of the international community.
The Serbs also shelled four other cities — like Tuzla, UN “safe areas” meant to insulate residents from war — despite the NATO air strike earlier in the day.
The shells landed in front of a coffeehouse in Tuzla, a northern Bosniak town, turning the street into a slaughterhouse. Dazed survivors dragged bodies and body parts to private cars, helping ambulances bring victims to the hospital, where blankets seeping blood covered the floor.
Even before the shelling, Lt. Gen. Rupert Smith, the UN commander in Bosnia, had warned of NATO air strikes by noon (1000 GMT) Friday unless heavy weapons in and around Sarajevo are pulled out or turned over to the United Nations.
The Serbs were already targeted by NATO war planes Thursday after ignoring a noon ultimatum to return four pieces of heavy weaponry they took from UN-monitored sites outside of Sarajevo.
US, Spanish, Dutch and French planes swarmed over Pale, the Bosnian Serb stronghold about 15 kilometers southeast of Sarajevo, and bombed an ammunition depot.
Both Thursday’s and Friday’s ultimatums stem from violations of a 20-kilometer “exclusion zone” around the Bosnian capital. The UN depots were set up after such weapons were banned in February 1994 in and around Sarajevo under threat of NATO air strikes.
But Bosnian Serbs remained defiant. Even before targeting Tuzla, they moved into several UN-monitored heavy weapons collection points, firing mortar rounds at Sarajevo below. The shelling of Tuzla and other cities began later.
More Air Strikes
The NATO Air Strike on Thursday was the alliance’s eight against rebel Serb targets in Bosnia and neighboring Croatia since April 1994.
Even before the shelling of Tuzla, UN spokesman Chris Gunness said in Zagreb, Croatia, that more NATO air strikes were likely to follow on Friday with Bosnian Serb defiance of the deadline on heavy weapons.
“We’ve seen no signs that the Pale Serbs are fulfilling UN demands,” he said. “Clearly, a failure to meet tomorrow’s ultimatum, just like the failure to meet today’s, will again be met with robust response.”
The United Nations has its back against the wall after months of weak response to provocations by the warring sides and must respond firmly or get out.
And with their consistent rejection of negotiated attempts for a peace, the Bosnian Serbs have painted themselves into a corner, losing even the support of their former mentor, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
Milosevic now seeks peace at all costs in hopes of having UN sanctions lifted on Yugoslavia, comprising Serbia and Montenegro.