Srebrenica - Nick Cameron

Discussion in 'Bosnia/Former Yugoslavia (Op GRAPPLE, Op RESOLUTE)' started by SUNRAY_MINOR, Oct 31, 2011.

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  1. Bosnia: Witness to betrayal - 1


    The SAS gave Nick Cameron a medal when he came home from Bosnia, and then gagged him. Now he refuses to stay silent: this is what really happened when the West left 7,000 Muslims to be slaughtered

    I was handed a brown, official-looking envelope which I opened absently, expecting nothing more than the usual routine drivel - until I saw the "secret" classification. I returned to my small shelter, sat on my army hammock and began to read. The letter was already soaking wet from humidity.
    The signal was short but it left me reeling. It read: "Reference your tour of duty March to August 1995 you are required to attend an interview concerning events that occurred during your tour."

    I had spent the past month in a southeast Asian rainforest, but the memories of the summer of 1995 in Srebrenica came rushing back with startling lucidity.

    I remembered the thunderous noise of war raging all around me. Plumes of black acrid smoke hanging in the air from the many explosions and fires. Artillery and mortar shells raining down, and shrapnel slicing through the air. Hideously shaped bodies lying in the streets. Bullets kicking up the dust like heavy rain as the Serbian attackers searched for more targets - man, woman or child, any "Turk" would do.

    I recalled the weeping Muslim soldier who clasped my hand when he realised the battle was lost and thanked me for trying to help. I remembered grabbing him closer and shouting that I was sorry. Our efforts had been futile. The UN had totally betrayed these people. I watched him disappear into the chaos, knowing that he and thousands of others would die; and then, under fire from the advancing Serbs only 200 yards away, I got out of there.

    After a last night in the jungle, immersed in my disturbing memories, I heard the thwack-thwack of a Bell 212 coming in low over the forest canopy. I noticed the disgust on the crewman’s face as I jumped aboard. I was covered in a month’s worth of filth and I smelt very bad. I chuckled to myself and tried to get close to him.

    Two days later I arrived at the Ministry of Defence main building in Whitehall and was led through corridors crowded with men in suits to meet an investigator from the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. I sat flanked by two MoD lawyers who instructed me what I could and could not say. Once more all the shameful memories came flooding back.

    * * * * *

    SREBRENICA derives its name from srebro, the Serbo-Croat word for the silver that used to be mined nearby. The hilltop relics of an Ottoman fort indicate its former strategic importance. In the decades before Yugoslavia collapsed it was a nice place to live, nestled in its pine-covered valley in eastern Bosnia. It had a higher standard of living than some British towns.

    By the time I got there, however, it was a seething and noxious concentration camp, teeming with frightened refugees, deep inside Serbian territory and surrounded by a vengeful Serbian army.

    I was at home in Hereford when news of my deployment to Srebrenica reached me. I read up all I could. The records showed that in 1992 the Bosnian Serbs had ethnically cleansed the Muslims in northeast Bosnia and forced them into Srebrenica. Serbian militias then entered the town, executing Muslims; but Muslim forces had counter-attacked, forcing out the Serbs and killing their commander.

    Short of weapons, ammunition and food, the Muslims had raided Serbian villages to secure supplies and prepare for the next attack. An estimated 1,200 people were said to have been killed by the Muslim forces. The Serbs swore revenge and within months the town was again on the point of falling.

    In April 1993, after the personal involvement of Lieutenant-General Philippe Morillon, the French commander of the UN mission in Bosnia, the town and surrounding enclave was declared a UN safe area. It was also declared a demilitarised zone. The Muslim defenders were to hand over their weapons to UN troops and the Serbs would pull back their heavy weapons and stop attacking. Both sides flouted this agreement, with the Serbs once more gaining the upper hand.

    I assumed that I was being sent to help defend the Muslims. UN forces had responded forcefully to Saddam Hussein’s violation of safe havens in Iraq. Wouldn’t the UN be just as forceful when dealing with the Serbs? I didn’t realise there was a subtle difference in the wording of UN commitments. Srebrenica was a "safe area" not a "safe haven". In a safe haven the UN could intervene without having to obtain further permission. In a safe area it could operate only with the consent of the warring parties. In order to intervene in Srebrenica, the UN would have to obtain the permission not just of the Muslims but also - unbelievably - of the Serbs who were besieging them.

    I was sent to Srebrenica with another SAS guy whom I’ll call Jack. As the day for our departure from Hereford approached I went through the ritual of doing odd jobs at home. I even built the rabbit hutch that I had promised my daughter.

    Jack and I were instructed that if the UN operation in Bosnia went Green - that is to say if a conventional war broke out between the western powers and the Serbs - we should be prepared to carry out conventional special forces tasks. What was really being said was: get into this place, try to do something useful, but if the **** hits the fan you had better be there and be ready.

    Our priority was to gather information. A Dutch UN battalion was stationed in Srebrenica but its situation reports were not reaching UN HQ in Sarajevo. The SAS had for some years been filling the information vacuum caused by the chaotic conditions on the ground in Bosnia. We wore blue berets and had a cover name, but our true identity was no secret to the warring factions. They would automatically identify us as General Sir Michael Rose’s famous SAS.

    As Jack and I drove east across Bosnia, paranoid Serbs at roadblocks frequently stopped, searched and questioned us. At the last barrier before we entered the Srebrenica enclave, an otherwise friendly Serb ranted for well over an hour about Muslims: they were all thieves, murderers and rapists.

    He crudely simulated sexual intercourse with his fingers, saying Serbs had one, maybe two children but the Muslims had nine or 10. They were trying to take over the world and the Serbs would not let them. He drew his forefinger across his throat, growling "Muslim". I had been involved in a number of conflicts over the years and I thought I had seen people divided by sectarianism; but this was hatred I had never encountered before.

    On the other side of the barrier I found cratered roads, rubble-strewn streets and destruction all around. The UN compound, a former battery factory, was in virtual darkness. Tents had been erected inside to give some protection from the severe winter weather. A group of Dutch soldiers huddled around an old stove.

    This was March 1995. Although I obviously didn’t know it at the time, there would be four months of growing tension and violence before I found myself trying to organise the defences of Srebrenica as the Serbs moved in for the kill.

    At first there was little action, but the situation I discovered in my first few days and weeks in the enclave is the key to understanding what happened later.

    The UN contingent - Dutchbat, as it was known - consisted of a mechanised battalion of about 400 soldiers. The Serbs had begun to wear down their morale by allowing only a trickle of soldiers to leave and by restricting the flow of replacements from Holland. Like everything the Serbs did, this was a carefully thought out part of their strategy for the conquest of Srebrenica.

    There were various other UN agencies in the enclave, including United Nations military observers (Unmos). The majority of these four-man teams of unarmed officers were from the Third World and had little experience. Some worked extremely hard; others rarely left their office. The information most were passing to their command was seriously inaccurate. They were largely uncooperative and incompetent and hostile to us.

    The Muslim army was a ragtag outfit. Regular soldiers were greatly outnumbered by men and boys. I doubt there were 2,000-3,000 in all. Despite being "disarmed", they had AK-47 assault rifles, some light machineguns and a few medium machineguns. They also had some light and medium-weight mortars and there was a sprinkling of anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades. But there were serious shortages of ammunition.

    By contrast, the Serbs were well supplied and equipped. It was later confirmed that they were receiving weapons, ammunition and equipment from the Serbian Republic. It was also confirmed that soldiers from the rump Yugoslavia were involved in the fighting for Srebrenica.

    The enclave was a small place measuring about 10 miles by six. There were said to be around 45,000-48,000 people trapped in an area that had been home for fewer than 10,000. The majority lived in or around the two main towns - Potocari, where the UN base was, and Srebrenica itself. Most were non-practising Muslims. There was none of the militant religious fervour that some in the West have come to associate with Islam. We found no evidence of mujaheddin fighters.

    Living conditions were atrocious. Lack of shelter, overcrowding, rat and flea infestations and poor sanitation meant that any outbreak of illness quickly engulfed the whole enclave. There were very few houses that remained undamaged; most were just shells.

    Before the war, the snow would have created a Christmas card scene. Now all the trees surrounding the town were gone. Wood smoke hung in a thick cloud overhead. The tree-felling had also caused erosion. Soil blocked the sewers and caused stinking water to fill the potholes in the roads.

    The population were in a condition of almost complete enforced idleness. Freezing refugees either huddled in small groups or seemed to wander around aimlessly. They were not all displaced peasants. I met bank managers and doctors and hotel managers as well as farmers and miners. They struggled on from day to day, living in squalor and feeding off false hope.

    / continued on next file

    © Nick Cameron 2002
     
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  2. Bosnia: Witness to betrayal - 2

    continued from previous file /

    The Serbian stranglehold was almost watertight. Escape was not an option for all but a few determined groups of men who were able to face the minefields, bunkers and the 20 or 30 miles of hostile Serbian territory.

    I was shocked by the sight of the children, not because they were starving but because of their adult faces. Yet they would follow us for miles and miles chanting "Mr Bonbon, Mr Bonbon". We gave them what sweets we could, but they would carry on following us even in a potentially dangerous situation; it would not be unusual to throw a stone at them to scare them off. They told us they would like to kill many, many Serbs; and they played out these fantasies in the streets with discarded war materials.

    There was little regard for the UN. Seeing my blue beret, some of the young Muslim men burnt a hole right through me with fierce, expressionless eyes.

    Jack and I had initially been told we would be in Srebrenica for only two weeks. It soon became clear that we would be staying much longer. If I was going to succeed in anything, I had to track down Nasir Oric, the elusive commander of the Muslim forces inside the enclave. Formerly a member of the Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic’s bodyguard team, he had attained a folklore status. The Dutch believed he was just a gangster, however. He would not speak to them and had refused to meet Lieutenant-General Sir Rupert Smith, the Unprofor commander in Sarajevo.

    When I at last met Oric, after several attempts, he had the same intense stare I had seen in the town. I said General Smith had instructed me to establish a link between them. This was not strictly true, but I had to win his confidence. I said I had direct access to Smith and could speak to his office at any time, night or day. This was not too far from the truth: I knew our organisation’s office in Sarajevo was near to Smith’s and it was very likely that he would be made aware of the situation in Srebrenica.

    I told Oric that what he told me would be on Smith’s desk that night. It worked: he began to pour out his concerns about the lack of food and medicine and the Serbian incursions into the enclave. Afterwards, a Brazilian Unmo who had witnessed this meeting accused me of conspiring with the Muslims. He showed me a letter he was planning to send to his HQ. I told him to **** off and send it.

    The next morning, with mild anticipation I made my way to my first working meeting with the commanding officer of Dutchbat, Lieutenant-Colonel Ton Karremans. I thought I would be able to convince him that we could work for him, that we were an asset.

    When I entered his gloomy room, I found a Dutch reception committee of company commanders and other officers. Some moved around on their chairs uncomfortably and looked at the floor. I had obviously interrupted a conversation in which it seemed that I was the main topic.

    Karremans was a tall, thin man with steely grey hair and a well-clipped moustache. He had an awkward, stiff manner and spoke sternly. This man would come in for some stinging criticism over the tragedy of Srebrenica, some of which was well founded. However, he should not have been made the scapegoat for the mistakes of the senior UN officials, both civil and military, who made the decisions that led to the carnage. He was only trying to implement their decisions, albeit incompetently.

    I was amazed by his first question: what is your function here? I replied that we were here for the same purpose as they all were. We would try to establish a climate where both sides could negotiate, and through these negotiations bring about the conditions for a local ceasefire. This was met with derision. One of the company commanders snapped: "We know what your regiment does. What is the real reason you are here?" The Gulf war book Bravo Two Zero was a popular read among Dutch troops and the men in that room believed my assignment must be more sinister than I had admitted. I tried to persuade them that we had no hidden agenda or secret mission; we were there simply to help.

    Why, I was asked, had the British government gone to so much trouble to get its soldiers into Srebrenica when the Dutch had been shouldering the burden alone for two years? That is, unless we were up to something. The British must have an ulterior motive. What do the British want here? One of the Dutch officers accused me of spying on Dutchbat.

    This was a hard one. For some time now, stories had been emerging from Srebrenica about the maltreatment of civilians and criminal activities by Dutch soldiers. These allegations had found their way to the Norwegian general commanding UN sector northeast, which covered Srebrenica. I had indeed been asked to investigate.

    As I sat facing the Dutch officers, I didn’t know that a week ago this same general had visited Srebrenica and had discussed the imminent arrival of the SAS with the Dutch CO. The general had said he would have us kicked out of the enclave if the Dutch commander felt we were spying on him. In effect I had been asked to spy on Dutchbat by the same officer who had threatened to throw me out of the enclave for spying on Dutchbat.

    When I eventually discovered this, I found it hugely amusing and characteristic of the way that the UN was operating. My informant was a highly placed source in the Dutch battalion who constantly told me about operations and negotiations that I was excluded from. The Dutch weren’t all obstructive and suspicious, by any means. (And we did investigate the alleged Dutch crimes and found no evidence to substantiate them.) Back to the frosty meeting: Jack and I needed freedom of action and flexibility to carry out our tasks, but the Dutch CO said we would not be allowed to operate on our own. Any time we left the UN compound, we would have to be accompanied by a Dutch patrol.

    We were told to work with a platoon from 108 Special Operations Company, the Dutch equivalent of the SAS, which was not part of Dutchbat and was largely excluded from important activities it had trained for - such as controlling practice attacks by Nato aircraft. Most 108 soldiers were young and had little operational experience, but some of them proved to be steady hands when the bullets started to fly.

    A few days later the commander of the 108 platoon told me we had a mission. Progress at last, or so I thought. We were going to visit one of the Dutch observation posts around the enclave perimeter. But when we reached it we found out that our "mission" was to build a blast wall and fill sandbags. I complained bitterly by radio to our boss in Sarajevo but was told we would just have to bear it. Bear it we did, filling more sandbags and lifting heavier stones than our Dutch counterparts.

    The talk back at the Dutch UN compound was of how the CO had put the Brits in their place. Jack and I told ourselves that when the **** hit the fan they could f off. We would go and join up with the Muslims.

    This feeling was reinforced on another patrol when an officer gave me a public dressing down for carrying a load of firewood for an old Muslim lady and giving her a scarce box of matches. I think he honestly thought this compromised Dutchbat’s stance of impartiality between the Muslims and Serbs. I told him to f--- off anyway.

    Soon I had more important things than Dutch pettiness to worry about. After the winter lull, the fighting season was starting.

    * * * * *

    AT FIRST I thought that the shooting was all going overhead until I realised that the bullets were whipping up the ground around our feet. The noise was deafening.

    I automatically got down on one knee and tried to find out what was happening. I could see three Dutch soldiers run for the cover of some trees, the earth all around them being kicked up as bullets missed them by inches. I expected one of them to fall at any moment. Behind me I could see Jack head for the cover of a small building also under a hail of bullets.

    Moments earlier, on patrol in the northwest corner of the enclave, we had been passing people labouring in the fields. Children had shouted at us and laughed. But as we emerged from the cover of a strip of woodland we had come into full view of Serbian trenches. Our high-visibility blue UN equipment was no protection - far from it. I could hear the bullets slash past my ears and crack into the earth all around. I could even smell the cordite.

    In a matter of seconds I was up and racing down the track as the bullets struck just in front of me. I could see the treeline where three of the Dutchmen were hiding. It was less than 100 yards away but it seemed like 100 miles. The firing did not slacken. As I ran, the bullets moved with me and I tensed up my right side, waiting for the impact. But nothing happened. I ran and ran and when I reached the cover I could not believe that I had not been hit.

    The Dutch patrol commander was on the ground, looking up with saucer-like eyes. I burst out laughing at the sight of him. I’m sure he thought that I was as mad as a hatter, completely out of breath but roaring.

    Members of Dutchbat command accused us of leaking details of this incident to the Dutch press. With our satcom radio we had somehow got in touch with a television or radio station in Holland, they said. We were blamed for a flurry of activity on the Dutch army helpline in Holland, where anxious relatives of soldiers in Srebrenica were asking about the attack. When I told Sarajevo, the boss responded: "Don’t be surprised if they blame you because it’s raining."

    Dutch morale lifted with news of a relief convoy being allowed in by the Serbs; but it turned out to contain only a fraction of the food and fuel that was needed. A large load of pork could not be kept frozen and would have to be eaten immediately. Once the Dutch had had their fill, the remainder was offered to the Muslims, who declined. It went to the Serbs, who I am sure had planned the whole thing. Morale slumped again.


    As attacks on Dutch patrols increased, the 108 commando platoon was told to ask the Serbs what they were up to. We jumped at the chance to go with him. A meeting was called just under a Serbian bunker. I could see a machinegun barrel sticking out of the viewing aperture. Two Serbian soldiers crouched down waiting for us. Both carried well-cleaned and oiled AK-47s and both had pistols strapped onto their waist belts.

    Neither wore indications of rank or any badges, but one gave the impression that he was a professional soldier, comfortable in this war environment. The other seemed to be his bodyguard and said nothing.

    There were no greetings. Louie, the 108 commander, asked why the Serbs had attacked the Dutch patrol. The answer was a denial and a confident all-knowing smirk. It was the Muslims, the senior Serb declared, they always shoot at Unprofor and try to blame us. He started on a list of complaints against the Muslims. His gaze was firmly fixed on Srebrenica and there was venom in his voice as he spoke. Some of his accusations were no doubt true. He said the Muslims had raided a Serbian farm and had stolen a number of cows. I said nothing - I had noticed beef for sale in Srebrenica market.

    There was a shock waiting for me back at base that afternoon. A Dutch signaller said there had been an urgent message for me to call Sarajevo. I quickly set up the radio. On hearing our call sign the HQ signaller told me to wait: our commander had an important message for us.

    As the signaller went off to find him, I tried to stay cool. Had something happened at home? Very often, so-called important messages turn out to be routine. This one, however, was to leave me stunned.

    Soon the steady voice came onto the net. "Hello, how are you? I think you had better sit down . . . over," he said, using the correct procedure and dragging out the suspense a little longer.

    "Yes, we’re all okay - let’s have it," I replied, my mind racing.

    The crisp voice told me that they had received - from a very good source - information to indicate that the eastern enclaves were in great danger. There was the likelihood that in the near future Srebrenica would be subjected to an all-out assault by Serbian forces. All the eastern enclaves were in danger but Srebrenica would be the first enclave to be attacked. The attack could come at any time.

    Yes, I responded, go on.

    The voice continued: when the Serbs attack the eastern enclaves, the Muslim forces inside the enclaves will attack the UN.

    F---, I thought, what else can go wrong? This was the nightmare scenario, the one which I had always feared. The Muslims will attempt to disarm the UN and hold out against the Serbian attack using the UN’s weapons.

    Was there anything else? Yes, said the boss, the Dutch did not know about the attack yet and I was not allowed to tell them. It would be better if they were to be informed by their own sources. They would find out soon enough, and if not then we could tell them.

    I turned off the radio. I sat alone for a few minutes, trying to take in what I had just heard. I glanced at the wall map of Bosnia and saw Srebrenica, isolated and vulnerable in hostile Serbian territory. F---, I thought, how am I going to get out of this one?

    © Nick Cameron 2002
     
  3. On a scale of "crimes against humanity" the estimated 8,000-10,000 Muslim men and boys massacred in the aftermath of Srebrenica’s fall barely registers when compared with the second world war’s 6m Jews or Cambodia's millions or Rwanda’s one million. As an act of depravity and ruthlessness, however, it ranks among them all.
    What makes the Srebrenica tragedy so reprehensible, apart from the obvious barbarity, is that it happened in 1995 in Europe. The system that was supposed to stop such an outrage was actually in place, and the military power that could have prevented the catastrophe had been assembled and deployed; but it was never used.

    I was sent to Srebrenica as part of Unprofor, the United Nations Protection Force. To me our mission was clear cut: we were duty-bound to protect the people of the Srebrenica enclave. We had powerful friends backing us, we were working under the UN flag and we had the backing of the world community. Or so we believed.

    In the months before Srebrenica was overrun, Nato aircraft conducted training flights overhead almost daily. This was reassuring for the Muslims, ourselves and the Dutch UN contingent. The people of the enclave believed emphatically that they would be protected at all costs. As it turned out, it was a bluff; and when the Serbs called the bluff the Muslim population were abandoned to their enemy.

    UN headquarters had prior warning of the Serbian assault, even down to the actual details of the formations taking part. By making this information public, the UN would have at the very least delayed the attack and given new impetus to negotiations. It did not do so.

    In the immediate aftermath of the battle, the commanding officer of the Dutch UN forces met the Serbian commander, General Mladic. On his return he told me: "If he (Mladic) gets his hands on them he will kill them all." Even then I did not believe him, but I was mistaken.

    Under the noses of the hopelessly outnumbered, intimidated and woefully unprepared UN troops, Muslim men and boys were separated from their women and children in an operation that was precisely planned. They were taken to isolated locations and systematically slaughtered.

    The Dutch have taken the brunt of the criticism for the debacle. As my British patrol was attached to them, we have also taken some flak. But the decision to abandon Srebrenica was not taken by the Dutch battalion; nor did we make it. The soldiers on the ground became scapegoats for the indecision by the UN diplomats and military high command. It seems incredible that the UN strategy for the defence of Srebrenica and the nearly 50,000 inhabitants was based only on the hope that the Serbs would not attack.

    There have been numerous books, articles and television programmes. In one it was implied that no action was taken by the British patrol in the enclave to try to halt the Serbian assault. It was stated that the day before the enclave fell a Muslim fighter led the British patrol to a location overlooking the town and pointed out two Serbian tanks and about 20 Serbian soldiers who were involved in the assault. According to the report the commander of the patrol (me) said he could not see them and retreated back to the safety of the UN compound.

    The implication was that we were scared and ran away. We were indeed scared, but we most certainly did not run away. My colleagues - Dutch and British - and I nearly paid with our lives in our attempts to stop the Serbs.

    Being in the British Army, I was not at liberty to reveal what had really happened, because of a confidentiality agreement I was ordered to sign during service. I made up my mind that when I left the army I would write my own account of the unbelievable events of 1995 - censorship or not. Everything I have written actually occurred.

    © Nick Cameron 2002
     
  4. I couldn't find anything else about the above story on the website and thought it was worth an airing.

    MoD sues ex-SAS man over exposé | UK news | The Guardian

     
  5. Even if you was a pork eating, Alcohol drinking Muslim who happens to have Osmanovich as your surname, you are seen and referred to as a Muslim extremist or a Turk to these Serbs.

    As Christoper Hitchens once stated on the lines of most people have never thanked the American and British forces for their role in Bosnia.

    Not only did the NATO forces prevent genocide, they created a country called Bosnia has is a great role model for other Muslim countries follow. Moderate, secular and equal status for all.

    Nice read.
     
  6. People forget that the other participants in that war did terrible things as well. I would like to see articles about their atrocities, not just concentrate on Srebrinica.
     
  7. sunray minor - that was an amazing read, thankyou for posting it.

    i dont want to take anything away from the horrendous event that occured, but would a muslim massacre of europens ever get the high level of publicity?

    i also wonder why it was allowed to happen, in this day and age too.

    once again thanks for the interesting read