A Travel Vignette

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From a Bosnian Travel Diary (1995)

All in a Day's Work

A Bob Djurdjevic/Truth in Media Column, July 1995

PALE, July 14, 1995 (18:10L) - Dr. Radovan Karadzic, Bosnian Serb President, reached for a peach from a fruit dish set on a long conference table in his newly appointed office.

"Would you care for one?" he asked this writer, the only other person in his spacious office.

"No, thank you," I replied.

Karadzic carefully sliced off a piece of the peach.

For more than an hour already, we have been discussing war and peace; love and hate; honesty and deception; the past and the future. Occasionally, this former psychiatrist, whose main occupation lately has been reading the minds of the world’s leading politicians, would un-mute the TV set perched on top of a mahogany cabinet across the room. He would then flick back and forth between CNN and Sky News, his main sources of information about the world’s reaction to his latest moves. The Bosnian Serbs had just raised the stakes of this civil war by taking Srebrenica two days earlier. And they were mounting an attack on Zepa, the adjacent UN "safe area."

The assault on Zepa was the likely reason the NATO planes have been buzzing overhead all day long. The day before, they bombed the Serbs around Srebrenica. "But they only to hit some rocks," Karadzic said. I wondered out loud if the raid was intentionally so cosmetic? (to show that UN/ NATO are doing something without angering the Serbs too much).

The new Presidency building in which we were meeting was once a part of a bustling "FAMOS" factory which manufactured engines for Mercedes-Benz automobiles, among others. It is situated in the hills above Pale, close to the springs of Miljacka river (which flows through Sarajevo), and less than a mile from the ammunition dumps which the NATO airplanes destroyed in two bombing raids on May 25 and May 26.

"(Are) you sure I can’t get you anything?" the ever hospitable host probed his guest again.

"I am sure. I had just finished a late lunch before we started our meeting."

Karadzic sliced off another piece of the peach. At that moment, an explosion rattled the windows of the building. It was followed by a high-pitch hissing sound. Both of us looked out of the window. A white plume of smoke was rising from a hill, less than 200 yards away. We walked to the window and looked up. A thin white trail of smoke pointed skyward.

"We must have fired a missile at one of the NATO planes," Karadzic muttered. After the NATO bombing raids on Pale in late May, the Bosnian Serb President warned that the NATO planes flying over Serb territory may be fired upon. A loud boom confirmed his assessment. But since the trees in front of the building blocked our view, we could not see if the missile had hit the target or the decoy flares which the fighter planes usually emit in such circumstances.

Karadzic walked back to his desk and buzzed his secretary. "Send A. in," he ordered.

Moments later, a soldier dressed in a camouflage uniform appeared. "What happened?" Karadzic asked.

"I don’t know," the soldier replied. "Looks like we’ve fired on one of NATO planes."

"I can see that much myself," Karadzic said. "Find out what happened and let me know."

"(Vitaly) Churkin is coming this evening, (Thorwald) Stoltenberg tomorrow," Karadzic calmly changed the subject, as if firing missiles was a normal part of his daily routine. Turning to his visitor, he added, "I wonder what they want?"

For a few minutes, we discussed whether or not the Bosnian Serbs can expect any breakthroughs this time on the diplomatic front. They were already making their own breaks on the battlefield.

The phone rang. After hanging up, Karadzic said that was a field commander defending the major road north of Srebrenica. "There’s been a lot of fighting today around Konjevic Polje and Kasaba. The Muslim soldiers are trying to break through toward Tuzla. He claims there are 10,000 of them in the woods. But 2,000 to 3,000 seems more likely to me."

There was a knock at the door. The same soldier returned.

"Mr. President, the (NATO) fighter jet was flying quite low, at probably less than 5,000 meters (about 15,000 feet)," the soldier said. "As soon as our rocket was fired, the pilot took evasive action, and fired off defensive flares. The missile missed the plane and hit the flares."

"We shouldn’t be doing it now," Karadzic muttered to himself. "Okay, thank you," he said dismissing the soldier.

No more NATO planes were to be heard for the rest of the evening. Nor the following day. Maybe NATO commanders concluded that it was pointless to bomb the mountainous terrain around Zepa? Or maybe this evening’s near miss reminded them of Capt. O’Grady’s fate? (the American pilot downed on May 31). Either way, this writer was grateful to them for a peaceful evening, and a good night’s sleep. Or should he have thanked the Serbs?

* * *

Also see... "Fishing for Bodies" (1994), "From Bosnia War Diaries" (1994), "On the Run" (1995), "All in a Day's Work" (1995)

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