Sunday, 21 November 2010

Croatia: Myth and Reality (09) - C. Michael McAdams - The Changing Balance

C. Michael McAdams

The Changing Balance

By late 1995 Croatia had become a military power in the region in its own right, sending the seemingly invincible Serbs into full retreat from Croatia. In Bosnia, the outnumbered and out-gunned Army of the Republic of Bosnia- Hercegovina somehow held the city of Sarajevo and little more than one quarter of the country for three years. The siege of Sarajevo became the longest in modern European history. In much of Hercegovina it was the Croatian Military Organization (HVO) that held the Serbs at bay. While nominally independent and made-up of Bosnian Croatians, the HVO was in reality an extension of the Croatian Army.

Even though the Muslim-led Bosnian Army and the HVO were fighting the same enemy, clashes started as early as 1992 between the two forces, especially in and around the city of Mostar. In March of 1994 US President Bill Clinton presided over a forced marriage of Croatia and Bosnia into a federation. For both it was a marriage of convenience resented by many in the populations of both sides.

The Federation was promised US economic assistance and covert military support in the form of supplies, (technically banned under the universal embargo), training, and most importantly, intelligence. Slowly, the Federation gained greater advantage in western Bosnia while the United Nations abandoned one "safe area" after another in eastern Bosnia allowing the Serbs to swallow up Bosnian towns and, in the case of Srebrenica, Zepa and others, murder thousands of Bosnian Muslims in UN "protected" areas.

Late in 1995 the powerful Croatian Army, under the authority of the Federation, moved to relieve Bosnian forces in northwest Bosnia. Together the forces drove the Serbs back on almost everv front. The United Nations had turned its back on the people it was supposed to protect and it seemed possible that Croatia and Bosnia united might push Serbian forces back into Serbia. Suddenly, settling for half of Bosnia seemed more attractive to dictator Milosevic and his puppets than before.


In April and May of 1995 the first NATO air strikes against Serbs were launched, and in August NATO began a two-week bombing campaign to break the siege of Sarajevo just as Croatian forces were liberating the Krajina. With thousands of refugees fleeing into Serbia, world-wide condemnation of Serbia resulting in real bombs, not words, and a combined Croatian-Bosnian army pressing on every front, Milosevic decided it was time to talk.

In September 1995 a US agreement was accepted by the Croatian and Bosnian sides. That agreement would sacrifice one-half of Bosnia to the Serbian aggressor. However, distasteful, the US made it clear that the offer was final and only the details could be negotiated. With a sixty-day cease fire in effect, the presidents of Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia were summoned by President Bill Clinton to a US Air Force base near Dayton, Ohio. From November 1, 1995, for twenty days and nights the details of what would come to be called the "Dayton Agreement" were hammered out and signed on November 21, 1995.

To reinforce the fact that Milosevic was in charge of all "Bosnian Serb" forces, Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic (who was neither Bosnian or Serb), and his chief henchman General Ratko Mladic were not invited and threatened with arrest for war crimes if they attempted to join the talks. A final signing was held in Paris the following month as the first of tens of thousands of NATO, with a symbolic detachment of Russians, moved into Bosnia to begin the difficult task of physically dividing Bosnia into the "Bosnian Federation" and the "Serbian Republic."

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