UN, Europe, Ethnic Cleaning of Bosnian Muslims
The Nation
6 April 1997
For years, the Serbs butchered Bosnian Muslims, while leading European countries like Germany and France looked the other way. The United States had to act in the end, but then it was too plate. By that time, hundreds of Bosnian Muslim women were raped, and thousands of Bosnian Muslim men killed, mostly en masse. And, their entire population was rendered homeless. The Dayton Peace Accord, that finally brought peace to the Balkans, was signed in November 1995. But the genocide of Bosnian Muslims had been going on ever since the breakup of Yugoslavia–years before the conclusion of this Accord. Until then, tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims had been killed, raped, humiliated, and rendered homeless.

Did Europe let the crisis in the Balkans conflagrate deliberately? Eyewitness reports and internal documents from the United Nations and Western governments obtained recently by Andreas Zumach of the British American Council—and published in Basic Reports—indicate France’s prime responsibility for allowing the Bosnian Serb conquest of the UN safety zone in Srebrenica in July 1995. The “official” account of the fall of Srebrenica, and the mass execution of 8,000 Muslim inhabitants that followed, has been regarded as one of the greatest failures of the UN peacekeeping forces.

However, this new evidence suggests that French President Jacques Chirac played a key role in disallowing any NATO action to prevent Serbian onslaught on Srebrenica. These documents also reveal that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (who was then UN Under-Secretary for Peacekeeping) and UN special envoy to former Yugoslavia at the time, Yasushi Akashi, were informed of Chirac’s intention not to take any serious measures to prevent the fall of the Enclave.

The Basic Reports discloses that, in June 1995, the French intelligence service learned of Serbian preparation for an attack on Srebrenica. This information was passed on to French Lt. Gen. Bernard Janvier, Supreme Commander of the UN Protection Forces in the former Yugoslavia, at UNPROFOR headquarters in Zagreb only in his capacity as French military officer, not in his role as Supreme Commander of the UN forces. During the Serbian attack on Srebrenica between 5 and 11 July, Gen. Janvier denied five requests from the local Dutch UNPROFOR commander to call in NATO aircraft to stop the assault. Gen. Javier has never denied these incidents. French government sources and UN officers stationed at UNPROFOR headquarters later disclosed that Gen. Janvier received direct orders by telephone from French President Chirac not to call in NATO air forces.

Reports of a top secret evaluation meeting of the role of the Dutch UNPROFOR battalion in Srebrenica at The Hague on 1 November 1995 have also shed new light on the course of events. At this meeting, Dutch officers gave the following account: “On 10 July, Janvier received a call from Paris at 20:15 while he was consulting with his staff about the escalating situation in Srebrenica. At that time, the Serb forces had overrun all UNPROFOR positions in the safe area, had entered the outskirts of Srebrenica, and were indiscriminately shelling the city with tanks and heavy artillery. Janvier left the meeting to receive the phone call from Paris in another room, accompanied only by French officers at UNPROFOR headquarters that Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic did not intend to conquer Srebrenica, and rule out the request for NATO aircraft. Sixteenth hours later, Mladic had conquered Srebrenica and driven out 40,000 inhabitants.”

Information about the November 1 meeting at The Hague was later leaked to a Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, launching a criminal investigation on the grounds that the details of The Hague meeting, officially classified as a “state secret” by the Dutch government,” might be damaging to the Defense Secretary and the State of the Netherlands. These events are documented in detail by Dutch journalists Frank Western and Bart Rijis, in their recently published book Srebrenica-Het Zwartste (the blackest scenario), Amsterdam: Atlas Publications. Recent statements by former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali also support the evidence that certain Western governments had taken control, only to later blame the United Nations for the fall of Srebrenica. On several occasions after the fall of Srebrenica, Mr. Ghali made it clear that he and his leadership team were never in control over Janvier. In an in interview with the French weekly Novel Observateur, he declared that French and British UNPROFOR generals “only followed orders from their governments in Paris and London.”

The UN headquarters in New York was informed by UN’s special envoy Akashi, weeks before the Srebrenica assault, that decisions regarding requests for NATO aircraft to defend UN safe area in the former Yugoslavia would be up to President Chirac, and that Chirac did not intend to bring into action the newly-formed rapid reaction force around Sarajevo, made up predominantly of French and British forces.

The actual course of events in Srebrenica appears to be predicted in the 19 June 1995 cable, number Z-1020 form UN’s special envoy Akashi to then Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping, Mr Annan in New York. The cable recounts Akashi’s 17 June meeting with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. According to the cable, during the meeting, Milosevic told Akashi “that he (Milosevic) had been advised by President Chirac that air strikes should not occur if unacceptable, and that he (Milosevic) did not experience the rapid reaction force to be employed at all…”

According to French government sources, Chirac had lengthy telephone conversation with Milosevic on 3, 9, and 11 June after which the Bosnian Serbs released 401 UNPROFOR soldiers taken hostage a month before the attack as “insurance” against NATO air strikes. While first-hand evidence of the content of the conversation between Chirac and Milosevic is not available, the Akashi cable strongly supports the view that France and its allies were responsible for allowing Srebrenica to be over-run.

The new evidence describing the actual events at Srebrenica also raises questions about the role of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in his position as Under-Secretary for Peace-keeping at the time of the attack. This year, on 30 January, when Mr. Annan was asked in Geneva about his silence on Srebrenica’s tragic events, he answered diplomatically that “the whole international community, not only the UN, failed in Srebrenica.” The UN Secretary-General went on to say that he had “heard the allegations that Chirac gave Milosevic assurances there would be no sir strikes,” but that he “could not find any proof for these allegations.”

Now these disclosures by the Basic Reports, a newsletter on international security policy read widely by diplomats around the world, establish the fact that the French leadership was involved in the crisis in Bosnia acting in concert with the Serbian leadership and, in fact, helping them to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims. Even the role of UN Secretary General Annan in the case of Srebrenica is doubtful.