Sarajevo: A look back at the first few months of the siege

Sarajevo after the end of the siege

Twenty years ago, the Bosnian war began with the siege of Sarajevo, which over the next 46 months became the longest siege of a  city in modern history. Serb nationalists attacked after the former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina declared itself an independent state.

As Bosnians remember that day, here is a look back at what The Times and its wire services were reporting in the first few months of the fighting.

April 7, 1992:

Ignoring Serbian threats to escalate a siege of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the European Community announced Monday that it will recognize the independence of this former Yugoslav republic now racked by ethnic clashes and paralyzed by roadblocks.

April 9, 1992:

Serbian radicals and Yugoslav federal troops stepped up attacks on newly independent Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday, terrorizing Sarajevo, the capital, with sniper fire and indiscriminate shelling. At least 30 people have been killed in Sarajevo over the past few days, and some reports put the republic-wide death count from a week of violence as high as 300.

April 11, 1992:

Deadly ethnic clashes in the newly independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina have sent thousands fleeing in terror, U.N. refugee workers reported Friday after finding about 10,000 Muslim women and children huddled in a single village without food or shelter.

… The huge crowd of Muslim refugees found about two miles southwest of Zvornik, in the village of Litija, said they had been chased from their homes by Serbian vigilantes and feared that they would be massacred.

"I can't believe this is happening in Europe in 1992," said Judith Kumin of the U.N. refugee agency's Belgrade office as she sought to arrange evacuation of the refugees from Litija to the predominantly Muslim city of Tuzla, about 25 miles west.

May 2, 1992
Surrounded by Serbian vigilantes and lacking any mandate to intervene in a new conflict that has drifted their way, the hopelessly outnumbered U.N. troops in Banja Luka are keeping their blue-helmeted heads down.

"They asked us to come, and here we are," said one disgruntled Scandinavian soldier, drinking beer in his hotel room and vainly trying to phone mission headquarters in Sarajevo. "I think there are very high expectations of what we can do here. People are going to be disappointed."

May 14, 1992 (editorial)

This is not the profile of chronic ethnic strife but of ruthless, bloody conquest. Sickeningly, a secret Serbo-Croatian agreement has just been struck for a division of Bosnia-Herzegovina's territory. No comparably cynical agreement has been seen in Europe since Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide Poland. Blitzkrieg followed that infamous treaty. Something like blitzkrieg seems to be following this one.… Europe can no more ignore a major war in a European nation than Los Angeles could ignore a major riot in a Los Angeles neighborhood. Something has to be done, and soon.

May 20, 1992

Despite mounting signs that foreign powers are considering military intervention to protect Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Serb-dominated federal army ignored a Tuesday deadline to pull out of the independent state it has systematically laid to waste.

May 30, 1992

Corpses bloodied the streets of Sarajevo on Friday after the fiercest Serb-led bombardment of Bosnia's capital in two months, news reports said.

"It was a night of horror and destruction," the Belgrade-based Tanjug news agency said.

June 1, 1992

Upset by the international scorn President Slobodan Milosevic has brought on their country, Serbs roamed the streets of the capital Sunday, gathering at potential targets for their anger and then dispersing as if unable to find the spark for revolution.

June 3, 1992

In a chilling account of the civilian slaughter that has become a staple of the Yugoslav war, the respected Belgrade newspaper Borba on Tuesday quoted an eyewitness relating how the engineer's son and 16 other Muslim children were gunned down by guerrillas before their parents' eyes.

...Tales of horror have mounted with the intensity of war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where at least 2,300 people, most of them Muslim civilians, have been killed as armed Serbs have ripped "ethnically pure" enclaves out of what was once a tolerant and integrated state.

June 16, 1992

Crowded around a park bench with other Bosnian refugees, Rabija Mirovic craned toward a scratchy radio Monday to catch word of how a cease-fire was faring in the Sarajevo neighborhood she fled less than a week ago.

The stoic, 61-year-old pensioner showed no sign of disappointment at reports of shelling around her suburban apartment block. The worry lines etched in her face seemed only to harden at the news, as if confirmation of her worst fears were some sort of comfort.

"I know there is a cease-fire today, but I knew there would be no peace," the retired nurse said angrily, her eyes glistening but refusing to shed tears. "As long as the extremists are negotiating these agreements, there is no cause for trust."

June 19, 1992

Hunger gripped parts of this blockaded city Thursday, and some residents were reported eating grass. But the fighting subsided, and an agreement appeared to be near on reopening the airport to U.N. relief shipments.

June 23, 1992 (editorial)

There are in fact some signs that the sanctions are beginning to bite. But there are also signs that shortages of food and medicine in Bosnia could soon begin to exact a truly terrible toll. Has the time come for the Western states not just to threaten aerial intervention to save lives in Bosnia but to began planning seriously to carry it out?

June 30, 1992

United Nations peacekeeping troops hoisted their powder-blue flag over the Sarajevo airport Monday after Serbian guerrillas withdrew their heavy guns. Within hours, a French aid plane broke the three-month siege of the city by touching down with a cargo of food and medicine.

But the nightmare was far from over. The siege of Sarajevo would go on for nearly four years, killing more than 11,000 people. The war as a whole would take more than 100,000 lives.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A boy plays on a tank in the Sarajevo neighborhood of Grbavica on April 22, 1996, after the siege of his city ended. Credit: Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty Images

 
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