The Siege of Sarajevo

Tunnel of Hope
Tunnel of Hope

The siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. It lasted from 6th April 1992 until 29th February 1996; a total of 1425 days.

Bosnia and Herzegovina were the third republic to declare their independence from Yugoslavia following a referendum in 1992. The Serbs boycotted the referendum whilst the Croats and Muslims were strongly in favour of independence. The Bosnian Serbs wanted to create a new Bosnian Serb state called Republika Srpska. Tensions were building and soon after the referendum, violence broke out around the country. They surrounded Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000 stationed in and around the hills that surrounded the city. Sarajevo was battered with artillery, tanks and small arms. The city itself was blockaded by the Serb forces.

Inside the city, the Bosnian government defence forces were inadequately equipped and could not manage to break the siege despite having 70,000 troops. Thousands of people fled the city but many more were trapped inside. Food, medicine and suppliers were dropped into the city by air as the roads were blocked by the Serbs. Planes were often hit and missions often suspended. But the essential supplies certainly kept many of the civilians alive.

Sniper Alley

The most disturbing aspect of the siege was the Serbs snipers targeting civilians. Many were hidden in high-rise buildings overlooking the front line, also known as Sniper Alley. UN peacekeepers, women, children, and soldiers were all targeted. The cities cemeteries were quickly over populated and new cemeteries had to be created. Even funerals were targets, and in August 1992 a cemetery was attacked, killing mourners who were paying their respects. Eventually funerals were held during the night. Sniper Alley was the name for the main boulevard in Sarajevo, which was lined with snipers posts during the siege. It became infamous as a dangerous place for civilians to pass. People were known to run fast across the street or wait for UN armoured vehicles to use as shields.

The Tunnel of Hope

In 1993 the government began to dig a tunnel. The tunnel stretched almost 1 kilometer under the UN controlled airport, linking up the city to the Bosnian-held territory past the airport; two government held areas which served as a lifeline, bringing food, weapons and fuel into the city as well as allowing people to get out of the city. It became a major way of bypassing the international arms embargo. The tunnel became known as the tunnel of hope.

Market Massacres

The market attacks in 1994, killing 66 civilians and wounding many more, was the deadliest attack of the siege. The attack eventually led to action from the international community and the threat of NATO air strikes. Three years into the siege, the regular shelling of the city had returned, despite weapons being under UN control. In May 1994, Serbs took hundreds of peacekeepers hostage following a NATO air strike on a Serb weapon dump.

The final straw came in August 1995 with a second market attack. The international reaction was much quicker this time and within two days NATO launched more air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs stationed in Sarajevo. During the 1425 days of siege, more than 10,000 people were killed including 5434 civilians. The Bosnian forces also suffered many fatalities. Before the war, it is estimated that Sarajevo had a population of 525,980 and by the end of the Bosnian war, it is believed that between 300,000 and 380,000 remained living in the city.

After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted four Serb officials for crimes against humanity committed during the siege of Sarajevo. Stanislav Galic, Dragomir Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic were all convicted.

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