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Siege of Sarajevo

Siege of Sarajevo

The Siege of Sarajevo is often regarded as one of the longest and most brutal sieges in human history, characterised by massive shellings from the attackers and a determined struggle of the defenders.


In the immediate aftermath of Bosnia’s secession in 1992., violence and conflict erupted all over the city, as well as across the republic. The Serbian areas and communities expressed their will to stay in Yugoslavia with their own referendum, for which they received substantial military aid from the government in Belgrade. Following clashes and violence, the Bosnian government in Sarajevo called for mobilisation, which the Serbian side interpreted as a countdown to war. This prompted the Serbian side to organise evacuations from the city and stage raids on Bosnian government police departments and buildings.


All of these events culminated in the first shelling of the city on April 6th. Following Bosnia’s international recognition as a sovereign state, the Serbian government launched an invasion of the country. THe Yugoslav People’s Army units in Sarajevo now came under siege by the Bosnian forces. It was crucial for the Bosnians to secure as much weapons and equipment as possible in raids or ambushes on army convoys or facilities, as the Bosnian side did not field sufficient heavy weapons to match the attacking Serb forces. Sarajevo was laid siege to by the end of April.


Having foreseen Bosnian breakaway as a realistic option, the Yugoslav army began deploying heavy artillery around the city months before the war. These firing positions proved vital to Serbian forces, as the Bosnian defenders outnumbered the attackers significantly, which meant that armoured spearheads into the city largely failed. Total blockade of the city was established and the attackers soon changed their strategy. Instead of taking the city, they would starve it of supplies and utilities and wear the defenders down with constant bombardments and sniper attacks, with the latter becoming a symbol of the fighting for the city.


The Yugoslav army units were in constant danger from ambushes while trying to leave the city, though the last contingent of the JNA left the city in early June 1992. Assaulting the army and their positions proved to be one of the only ways to obtain weapons. The UN imposed an arms sales embargo on all sides, which greatly impacted the Bosnian side. This was circumvented wit the completion of the “Sarajevo tunnel”.


Serbian strategy began to resemble an urbicide, with majority of the attacks resulting in civilian casualties and mass demolition of the city. The UN requested immediate NATO airstrikes as a deterrent from further targeting civilians. An ultimatum was made, requesting Serb forces to withdraw heavy artillery pieces or face airstrikes from the Alliance.


Constant attempts to seize weapons from UN controlled depots resulted in NATO retaliatory airstrikes, which only ended when Serb forces started using UN personnel as human shields.


NATO did not resume airstrikes until further shelling of the city was resumed. NATO demanded all heavy weapons be withdrawn and the siege lifted. Serbian forces failed to comply which resulted in the operation “Deliberate Force” carried out by the Alliance against the VRS. The operations were terminated following VRS’ compliance to remove heavy weapons from the city.


Operation “Deliberate Force” allowed the joint Bosnian and Croatian forces to go on the offensive which resulted in parts of the city relieved. The Dayton treaty was subsequently signed which ended hostilities in the city. February 26th 1996. is considered to be the end of the siege.


The consequences of the siege were tremendous, both in civilian casualties, material losses and damage to the city. Eight people lost their lives every day on average. Structural damage was atrocious as protected buildings weren’t spared of direct attacks. The national library and Oriental institute were destroyed which resulted in a major loss of cultural heritage. It is estimated that over 10,000 apartments were destroyed.


With three ethnic groups residing within the city, Sarajevo stood as a monument to Yugoslav unity, this monument largely reduced to rubble and ash by hellish artillery fire and torments of all those who experienced the horrors firsthand.