Berserkistan Navigator Sarajevo Mayor Tells of
City’s Plunge into Hell

By Ian Geoghegan

Attack on Sarejevo's Market Square, 1994 THE HAGUE, July 1 (Reuters) - The Bosnian capital of Sarajevo disintegrated from a modern European city into a vision of medieval hell during a 44-month siege by Bosnian Serb forces, the city's wartime mayor told a U.N. hearing on Monday.

Tarik Kupusovic recalled how daily routines were shattered, with women and children forced to risk random sniper bullets in order to survive harsh winters without basic fuel and food.

Kupusovic, testifying on the third day of genocide hearings against separatist Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief General Ratko Mladic, said sustained and indiscriminate sniping and shelling cost 12,000 lives and untold psychological damage during the siege that began in the spring of 1992.

The tribunal's two most wanted men, accused of running a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing to purge areas of Bosnia of non-Serbs, were not in court to hear the testimony. Karadzic, under intense pressure to stand down and face the charges, said on Sunday he had handed power to his deputy but would stay as titular president, while Bosnian Serb army sources denied reports that Mladic had had a stroke and was in hospital.

The two are charged with crimes ranging from the three-year siege of Sarajevo to the bloody Serb assault on the U.N. "safe area" of Srebrenica, where over 6,000 men are feared slaughtered in the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War Two.

"Sarajevo was a modern European city. For over 400 years Muslims, Serbs, Croats and Jews lived together... in harmony and simply happy," Kupusovic told the Hague-based U.N. criminal tribunal for former Yugoslavia. "All of a sudden... the hills (around Sarajevo) were filled with cannon and artillery shooting at the city. People couldn't believe war had begun. They thought this would be resolved... at the worst within two months. It was inconceivable how anyone could attack a city in which there was no military target. We considered this to be madness and only lunatics would do that," Kupusovic said.

He described how some days the shelling was like "hell let loose" as "Karadzic's Serbs" bombed the city in revenge for Bosnian army successes in the war.

Civilians endured freezing winters without electricity or water, forced to run the gauntlet of random sniping just to fetch wood or water from abandoned wells at the city's brewery. "The first purpose of the sniping was to kill...but also to keep the city hostage and hopeless...where everything would be controlled by Karadzic's Serbs and they would be lords of war and peace, of life and death, of an entire city," he said.

He told how Serbs razed buildings of historic and symbolic value, like mosques and catholic churches, municipal buildings, the national library -- all targets of "the barbarians destroying what makes a city a city." Earlier, prosecution investigator Jan van Hecke described how Serb snipers, posted on hills around the city, picked off targets using rifles fitted with long-range sights.

"The population could never feel safe...even when indoors in their homes...people were killed and wounded sitting on their own couch, asleep or performing basic chores."

Using video and television newsfilm and grisly photographs of dead and mutilated victims, Van Hecke described how Serb positions kept up a steady bombardment, raining improvised air bombs, which exploded at head height, on residential areas. Targets were shelled at random -- children sledging in the snow, people queuing for water, bread and humanitarian aid, schools, hospitals -- "people of all ages, all sexes."

The seven-day hearings -- not a trial in absentia, but a process allowing prosecutors to present evidence against those charged but not arrested -- are due to end on Friday. The tribunal is then expected to issue international arrest warrants against both men, making them international fugitives.

The first body to prosecute war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War Two, the tribunal has charged 75 men, primarily Serbs, with war crimes. It holds seven accused in its Hague cells.

To learn more...
Cry Bosnia The Book and Charity
Ethnic Cleansing Photos, Accounts from PeaceNet
Ex-Yugoslav Pictures Photo Galleries, Eyewitness Accounts
The Picture Project Farewell to Bosnia by Gilles Peress

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