The Siege of Mostar – 1993

Mostar Bridge

The Croat forces and the Bosnian Muslims forces began by fighting against the Serbian dominated Yugoslav People’s Army. However, as the political climate evolved, the Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims started to fight one another. Izetbegovic was pressured by Tudjman to agree to Bosnian and Herzegovina to become a confederation with Croatia. He felt that influence from Croatia or Serbia would cripple the reconciliation between Bosnian Muslims and Serbs and therefore opposed the idea. Boban issued an ultimatum, declaring that without a confederation with Croatia, they would help to defend Sarajevo.

In June 1992 discussions began between Bosnian Muslims and Croats regarding military cooperation. The Croats wanted to move the army headquarters out of Sarajevo and closer to Croatia. The autonomous Croatian community of Herzeg-Bosnia founded in November 1991 was formally declared but, in a clear change of direction, claimed power over its own police, army, currency and education. The official language was Croatian, they displayed only the Croatian flag and allowed only the Croatian Kuna as currency. They declared that the Bosnian Muslim majority of Mostar was to be the capital.

In July 1992, Izetbegovic and Tudjman signed the Agreement on Friendship and Cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. Allowing cooperation against Serb aggression and to coordinate military efforts. By October the agreement had collapsed due to differing agendas and fighting between Bosnian Muslims and Croats broke out.

The city of Mostar was divided by April 1993. The western part was dominated by Croatian forces and Bosnian Muslims took control of the eastern part of the city. The Bosnian Army headquarters were located in West Mostar in the Vranica. The 9th May 1993 attack started early by the Croatian Defence Council using artillery, mortars and heavy weapons. Croats took control of the Varnica building and destroyed the Baba Besir mosque. The Croat forces controlled all roads leading into Mostar and prevented access to International organisations. Muslims in West Mostar were arrested and separated the men from the women and children. They were expelled to camps where they were starved, beaten, tortured and killed.

From June 1993 until April 1994, Croat forces besieged Mostar culminating in civilian deaths as they were detached from humanitarian aid. The ICTY declared that East Mostar were subjected to prolonged military assault by Croatian forces. Ten mosques in the city were left destroyed and damaged and cut off the supply of humanitarian aid. The Muslim population were forced to live in harsh conditions without food, water, electricity or aid. The Serbs remained the stronger force and cooperated with both the Croats and the Bosnian Muslims.

The Stari Most Bridge

After the end of the first siege, the historic Stari Most bridge was the final bridge connecting the two banks of the Neretva river. By 1993 the Bosnian Muslims held positions in the immediate vicinity of the bridge and it was vital for means of communication and supply. Croatian forces shelled the bridge throughout the second siege of Mostar until it eventually crumbled on the 9th November 1993.

Mostar was the most heavily destroyed city in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the east of the city, with a majority Muslim population, was the most affected area. It is reported that around 75% of buildings were destroyed or left badly damaged.

The World Bank, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the World Monuments Fund worked together for the reconstruction of the Stari Most bridge and the historic centre of Mostar. The reconstruction started in June 2001 and the bridge was inaugurated on 23rd July 2004.

The Washington Agreement

By February 1994 it was reported by the UN that between 3000 and 5000 Croatian troops were in Bosnian and Hervegovina and that there would be ‘serious measures’ taken if all forms of interference were not ended. The Bosnian government called it an invasion, stating that It was closer to 20,000 troops. Boban was removed from power and ceasefire talks began in Washington between the Bosnian government leaders and Mate Granic, Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

A provisional agreement on a Croat-Bosniak Federation was reached on 1st March 1994 thanks to pressure from the US. Under the agreement, the combined territory held by the Croat and Bosnian government forces was divided into ten autonomous cantons. It was formally signed on 18th March 1994 and ended the Croat-Bosniak war.

The fighting ended with the signing of the Washington Agreement in 1994 and the creation of the Croat-Bosniak federation. The city of Mostar was divided into two based on ethnic lines. The EU took over its administration for an interim two-year period.

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