Balkan Strategic Studies

September 19, 2003

Srebrenica Controversy Becomes Increasingly Politicized and Ethnically Divisive, Increasing Pressure on Peacekeepers

On the eve of the dedication of a monument to Muslims killed at Srebrenica, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1995, a group which includes a former UN official, intelligence experts, and journalists, released a statement on September 18, 2003, challenging the alleged casualty number of 7,000 victims as “vastly inflated and unsupported by evidence”. 

They asserted that one-sided interventionist policies permitted al-Qaida forces and radical Islamists backed by the Iranian clerical government to take root during the Bosnian war, clouding the future of the region. As well, they agreed that the “memorialization” of false numbers in the monument actually appeared to be intended to perpetuate regional ethnic hatred and distrust and to deliberately punish one of the victim groups in the Bosnian civil war.

Former US President Bill Clinton is expected to attend and legitimize the dedication of the monument at Srebrenica, which was constructed using one million dollars of US Embassy funds at the request of High Representative Paddy Ashdown. But former BBC journalist Jonathan Rooper, who has researched the events in Srebrenica since 1995, says that the region was a graveyard for Serbs as well as Muslims and that a monument to inflated casualties on one side “serves neither truth nor the goal of reconciliation”.

Phillip Corwin, former UN Civilian Affairs Coordinator in Bosnia during the 1990s, said: “What happened in Srebrenica was not a single large massacre of Muslims by Serbs, but rather a series of very bloody attacks and counterattacks over a three year period which reached a crescendo in July of 1995.” Mr Corwin is author of Dubious Mandate, an account of his experiences during the conflict. He points out that Srebrenica, which was designated a safe zone, was never demilitarized as it was claimed to be, and that Muslim paramilitary leader Nasir Oric, who controlled Srebrenica, launched repeated attacks on surrounding Serb villages. 

He noted: “I was the United Nations’ chief political officer in Bosnia the day that Srebrenica fell. Coincidentally, it was the same day that the Bosnian Government tried to assassinate me as I drove over Mount Igman on the way to Sarajevo.” 

Intelligence expert and strategist Gregory Copley, President of the International Strategic Studies Association and the ISSA’s Balkan & Eastern Mediterranean Policy Council, accused US Ambassador Donald Hays, who serves as Deputy High Representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina, of using the power of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) governing Bosnia “to force Bosnian Serb elected officials to sign a fraudulent document accepting the official version of events in Srebrenica. The leaders of Republica Srpska [the predominantly Serbian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina] invited the office of the High Representative to join their investigation of the events in Srebrenica. Instead they were told they were told to sign a statement drafted by OHR endorsing casualty figures they publicly disagreed with.” 

Copley added: “It is significant in that the former US Clinton Administration fought this war unquestioningly supporting only the Croat and Muslim factions and disregarding the historic alliance of the Serbian peoples with the US. Then, after the war, the Clinton Administration failed to follow US tradition in helping to heal the wounds of war, but, rather, perpetuated ethnic divisions and hatreds. This differs from the US role in all other wars.”

“Unfortunately, all of the policies and officials put in place in the region by the Clinton Administration remain. The current Bush Administration has neglected the Balkans and has, instead, allowed the Clinton policies to continue, which has meant that divisive politics continue. This, then, requires the ongoing commitment of US peacekeeping forces in both Bosnia and in the Kosovo province of Serbia.”

Copley added that, according to intelligence obtained from Islamist sources, that the monument was intended to become a shrine for radical Islamists in Europe and site for annual pilgrimages.

He added: “Deputy High Representative Donald Hays forced the Republica Srpska Government to issue a statement which accepted the radical Islamists’ version of the Srebrenica affair, despite the fact that the Office of High Representative does not have any investigative capability of its own to make a valid assumption on the matter. As well, the International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague — no friend of the Serbs — has itself not completed its investigation of Srebrenica, and nor has the office of the Government of Republica Srpska which has been working with the ICTY.”

“Amb. Hays and OHR chief Paddy Ashdown forced the Republica Srpska statement merely to ensure that the opening of the ‘shrine’ — to be attended by Clinton — would vindicate Clinton Administration policies of support for the radical Islamists.”

Yossef Bodansky, who has written several books on the war in Yugoslavia and also serves as Research Director of ISSA, calls the 7,000 figure “disinformation” and notes that “all independent forensic evidence points to Muslim casualties in the hundreds. Continued emphasis on such allegedly high numbers of Muslim deaths at Srebrenica also obfuscates the Muslim murders in that city, earlier, of Serb civilians.” Bodansky also wrote extensively on the link between Osama bin Laden and the Bosnian Islamists in numerous articles and special reports and three books, including Offensive in the Balkans: the Potential for a Wider War as a Result of Foreign Intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina (1995), Some Call it Peace: Waiting for War in the Balkans (1996), and Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America (1999).

Rooper says that at least 1,000 Serbs, mostly civilians, were killed by forces led by Oric who did not bother to hide his crimes, even showing videotapes of slaughtered Serbs to Western journalists.

Meanwhile a group of academic experts and journalists from the United States, Canada, Germany, France, Serbia, and the United Kingdom has been organized by Prof. Edward S. Herman of the University of Pennsylvania to examine the evidence regarding events at Srebrenica in July 1995 and earlier, how the media reported these events, and the political role of claims about Srebrenica. It is expected that a report from this group will be available in June 2004.

Rooper points out that the 40,000 inhabitants the UN used in July of 1995 before the capture of Srebrenica roughly matches the number of former residents accounted for in the aftermath. A commander of the Muslim-dominated Army of BiH (Bosnia-Herzegovina) later confirmed to parliament in Sarajevo that 5,000 BiH troops escaped largely intact to Tuzla while the UN registered some 35,632 civilian survivors.

While the capture of Srebrenica was reported in July 1995, as it unfolded, an international outcry only took place a month later, after Madeleine Albright, then US representative to the UN, held up a photo which she said provided evidence that thousands of Muslim victims had been buried at field near Nova Kasaba, 19 kilometers from Srebrenica. Excavations which took place following the war, however, yielded 33 bodies at Nova Kasaba. Two years after the event, a total of 400 bodies had been found at 20 sites near Srebrenica, an area which had seen bloody fighting over a three year period.

Instead of acknowledging that there was no support for the original figures, Rooper says a various means were used to prop up the official story.

The inflated Srebrenica statistics are part of a larger picture that intelligence experts such as Bodansky and Copley find troubling. They say US policymakers have been slow to recognize that Bosnia is viewed as a strategic base for operations in Europe by al-Qaida and the HizbAllah. In 1993, when the Clinton Administration was strongly backing the Muslim President of Bosnia, Alija Izetbegovic, Osama Bin Ladin was regular visitor to his office, according to Renate Flottau of the German weekly, Der Spiegel. The Bosnian daily, Dani, reported that the Vienna Embassy of BiH issued a passport to Bin Ladin in 1993.

A special report by Copley, issued in Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily on September 17, 2003, noted that Bosnia-Herzegovina Ambassador Huso Zivalj, who issued the passport to Bin Ladin, later served as Bosnian Ambassador to the United Nations in September 11. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the movement of Zivalj to the New York post just before (and his departure just after) the September 11,2001 attacks was not coincidental.”

“To refer to US Bosnia policy as a success story is to disregard substantial evidence to the contrary. Instead of misplaced symbolism in Srebrenica, US policymakers need to take a hard look at assumptions which have guided US actions in the region,” Copley said.