SREBRENICA (1987-1992) BY PROF. BESIM IBIŠEVIĆ
Prof. Besim Ibišević's widely acclaimed book "Srebrenica (1987-1992)" is available in Bosnian language, only. However, we obtained permission from the author to publish translated chapter of this book on our blog. Historian by profession and former Mayor of Srebrenica, Prof. Ibišević participated in early stages of negotiations and preparations for resistance. In his book, he offers painstakingly documented account of events that led to the siege of Srebrenica and fall of predominantly Bosniak-inhabited central Podrinje.
CHAPTER: "Thursday, 16 April 1992" describes situation in Srebrenica two days before the beginning of war and the town's first fall.
The town was so empty. The telephone on my desk rang from time to time but instead of unexpected or important news all I could hear were anonymous threats, abuses and warnings. They swore at my balija [= derogatory term for Muslim] mother, at my peasant mother; they asked me "Are you still here?" and "Haven't you gone yet?" They told me they had their guns trained at me, others warned me to take care where I sat in my office. One thing was certain, I was threatened both by the bloodthirsty Serbs and by the nationally confused and power-hungry Bosniaks.
I was to go to the SDS [Serbian Democratic Party] and SDA [Bosniak Party for Democratic Action] meeting in Bratunac. Whom could I invite to come with me? lbran Mustafić had not returned from. Sarajevo for ten days, Hamed Efendić and Hamed Salihović - Sado were in Potočari but out of touch. I tried to find them by telephone but failed to do so and so I told the Municipal Assembly secretary that the two of us would go. Mesud suggested it might be a good idea to take Sabit Begić, an SDP [Social Democratic Party] member in the Municipal Assembly. I agreed because Sabit was a communist and would be useful in negotiations with the Serbs in Bratunac. Our official driver Irfan Jukić - Juka had fled from the town taking the car keys with him. Dževad solved that small problem and acted as our driver. During the severe intra-Bosniak strife in town he was one of the few level-headed men appealing to everybody to stay calm. That day he was both our driver and a member of the Bosniak delegation at the negotiations in Bratunac. We were met at Hotel Fontana by Goran Zekić, Miodrag Jokić - Žmigo and Miroslav Deronjić - Miro.
Mesud and I were glad to let Sabit speak, he craftily avoided the most difficult answers and asked the Serbs to help us with food. He said many people in the municipality were starving and the Serbs should help with food if they were indeed well-disposed. Road communications with the majority of Bosniak villages were cut by Serb barricades and checkpoints. The town was full of refugees from Bijeljina and Zvornik that had fled to Srebrenica fearing Serb atrocities. Goran promised to send several lorries with flour and other supplies from war reserves. He left the meeting briefly to telephone somebody to prepare the shipment of aid for Srebrenica. Bosniaks had been withdrawing for days from the valley to the mountain area: to Osmaći, Karačići, Sućeska and Luka. If we got any food it should go to those villages. We left all the political issues for some other time, we could not represent the Party properly. Sabit avoided the gravest problems and spoke as only as a humanitarian: "Thousands are starving in Luka while you wise men of SDA and SDS play your games! Leave that for later and let us save those hungry people! You Serbs, show your goodwill and send them food, the Bosniak people will certainly appreciate it." Before we parted, we agreed to meet the next day in Srebrenica to continue our negotiations. We planned to meet at 10 a.m. in my office. As soon as we reached Srebrenica I despatched several drivers with lorries to go and get the promised food. As I had feared,, we got nothing. Reaching the outskirts of Bratunac, the drivers were ordered to turn their vehicles around and go back.
Volunteers from Serbia dressed in camouflage JNA [Yugoslav People's Army] uniformes were seen at Jezero that day. Two dead bodies were found by the road Skeljani - Srebrenica at Vitez. They were bodies of Meho Hrvačić and Bahrudin Osmanović from Potočari. The two of them had gone to Bajina Bašta [in Serbia] the day before to get some petrol to fill their car and spare canisters. Once they got the petrol they turned back for Potočari, taking the road through Skeljani and Jezero, shorter than the road through Ljubovija. In the afternoon, villagers of Regašići and Dobrak saw a loffy full, of Chetniks going to Jezero. It was the Chetnik group from Skeljani led by Milenko Čanić and Vladislav Maksimović - Buco heading for the post-office building at Kragljivoda where they hoped to find Ahmo Tihić and his armed men. The Chetniks did not know that the armed Bosniak unit had left Kragljivoda three days earlier, crossed over to Osat and then disbanded. Believing the armed Bosniaks to be stationed in the post-office building, the Chetniks mounted a frontal attack. Once they had riddled the building with their bullets they finally realised it was empty. They went back angry and when they met a car with two Bosniaks they stopped the car and checked the two men. Their Bosniak names and birthplaces on their papers were provocation enough for he Chetniks to kill the two men and mutilate their bodies. As it was already dark, nobody noticed the two bodies until the next day. Cruel murder of two innocent men was meant to terrify the Bosniaks and announce the genocide that followed. Those were the first Bosniak victims in the municipality of Srebrenica, at the very outset of Serbian military aggression.
Goran Zekić rang me up asking to meet the Head of the Public Security Service in my office. The SDS chairman wanted to legitimise 'wild' Serb checkpoints in Sase, Bibići and Vihogor. It took me some time to locate Hamed Salihović - Sado and instruct him to come with his men immediately to the Municipal Hall. The SDS chairman brought the Serb delegation but we had to wait for almost two hours for the Head of the Public Security Service. Mesud Mustafić, and I were representing the municipal authorities and Sabit Begić was there to speed the negotiations up. Hamed led the Public Security Service men Tajib Mustafić, Alija Hasić and Milum Perendić; Goran led the Serbs Momčilo Cvjetinović and Momir Milovanović. There was nobody to type the Agreement and we had no typing supplies so Sabit wrote the two copies of the agreement in longhand, using a sheet of carbon paper. Although the title said Agreement of the Commission for Territorial Division it was not exactly the case. The Agreement was reached by the SD chairman and the Head of the Public Security Service, neither of them a member of the Commission for implementation of the Decision on Territorial Division. We, the other participants, also affixed our signatures to the Agreement thus making it more official. Only four of the ten signatories actually were members of the Commission for implementation of the Decision on Territorial Division. The Agreement between the Head of the Public Security Service and the representatives of the Serbs read as follows:
- "Militia of the Serb people in Srebrenica is to be established; the seat of the Militia shall be in Srebrenica and there shall be three outlying police stations, one each in the villages of Vijogor, Orahovica and Sase.
- In order to ensure free traffic of people, goods and communications, full cooperation and coordination shall be established with the Srebrenica Public Security Service.
- Negotiations shall proceed to ensure further organisational set up of services and to ensure unhampered life."
The Agreement was signed by Besim Ibišević, Goran Zekić, Sabit Begić, Momir Milovanović, Momčilo Cvjetinović, Mesud Mustafić, Alija Hasić, Tajib Mustafić, Milun Perendić and Hamed Salihović - Sado. Once the Agreement was signed, the SDS leader said the Serb militia had no need for the Public Security Service weapons, they had more than enough of their own. The Serbs needed the Agreement to legalise the already existing road checkpoints and to avoid any open confrontation with the Public Security Service. In other words, the Serbs were buying time. Sabit handed one copy of the Agreement to me and the other to Goran. The Bosniaks accepted the actual status and did not want to be the first to commence open hostilities.
Leaders of the Srebrenica SDA had left the town for their native villages or other destinations. Some of them could reach the town but did not want to because they had no wish to take any responsibility. The only one of the twenty four members of the SDA Executive Committee that I sometimes met at that time was Hamed Salihović - Sado. Our people were leaving for Tuzla every day. Would anybody stay to defend the town? Night raids and shooting were getting closer to the town every day. You could not tell who was shooting, guards were abandoning their posts.
After a night of shooting from Bojna, I moved over to Dzevad Halilović's house with my wife and child. With only one handgun and one cartridge of bullets, I spent the night riddled with anxiety and uncertainty. There was nobody to guard the town! What armed men the Bosniaks had were inside the town, most of, them gathered around their own houses. Few men were willing to go out of the town to defend the access roads. Inside the town, people feared the night, waiting for the dawn to come.
General consensus was that the Chetnik attacks came at night. The night belonged to them, the day to us. People were afraid of the falling darkness and greeted every new day with hope and optimism. The Sun was on our side, chasing the darkness and the Chetniks away.