Siege of Sarajevo

Siege of Sarajevo
Part of the Bosnian War

Executive Council Building after being hit by tank fire
Date5 April 1992[1] – 29 February 1996[2]
(3 years, 10 months, 3 weeks and 3 days)
LocationSarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Result Siege lifted due to the Dayton Agreement
Numerous civilian casualties

Bosnia and Herzegovina Bosnia and Herzegovina
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia

NATO NATO (1994–1995)
 Yugoslavia (1992)
 Republika Srpska (1992–96)
Commanders and leaders

Bosnia and Herzegovina Alija Izetbegović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Hakija Turajlić  
Bosnia and Herzegovina Sefer Halilović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Rasim Delić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Jovan Divjak
Bosnia and Herzegovina Enver Hadžihasanović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Mustafa Hajrulahović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Vahid Karavelić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Nedžad Ajnadžić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Zaim Imamović  
Bosnia and Herzegovina Ismet Bajramović
Bosnia and Herzegovina Ramiz Delalić
Bosnia and Herzegovina Jusuf Prazina  
Bosnia and Herzegovina Mušan Topalović  
Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia Vladimir Šaf

NATO Leighton W. Smith
Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Milutin Kukanjac (March – July 1992)
Republika Srpska Radovan Karadžić
Republika Srpska Ratko Mladić
Republika Srpska Tomislav Šipčić (July–September 1992)
Republika Srpska Stanislav Galić (September 1992 – August 1994)
Republika Srpska Dragomir Milošević (August 1994 – February 1996)
Bosnia and Herzegovina 70,000 soldiers Republika Srpska 13,000 soldiers
Casualties and losses
6,137 soldiers killed 2,241 soldiers killed
5,434 civilians killed

The Siege of Sarajevo was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare.[3] After being initially besieged by the forces of the Yugoslav People's Army, Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was besieged by the Army of Republika Srpska from 5 April 1992 to 29 February 1996 (1,425 days) during the Bosnian War. The siege lasted three times longer than the Battle of Stalingrad and more than a year longer than the Siege of Leningrad.[4]

After the Muslims and Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared independence from Yugoslavia, the Bosnian Serbs—whose strategic goal was to create a new Bosnian Serb state of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include parts of Bosnian-Muslim territory[5]—encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 13,000[6][7][8] stationed in the surrounding hills. From there they assaulted the city with artillery, tanks and small arms.[9] From 2 May 1992, the Serbs blockaded the city. The Bosnian government defence forces (ARBiH) inside the besieged city, numbering some 70,000 troops,[10] were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege.

A total of 13,952 people were killed during the siege, including 5,434 civilians. The ARBiH suffered 6,137 fatalities, while Bosnian Serb military casualties numbered 2,241 soldiers killed. The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. The estimates of the number of persons living in Sarajevo after the siege ranged from between 300,000 and 380,000.[6]

After the war, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted two Serb officials for numerous counts of crimes against humanity committed during the siege. Stanislav Galić[11] and Dragomir Milošević[12] were sentenced to life imprisonment and 29 years imprisonment respectively. One of the 11 indictments against Radovan Karadžić, the former president of the Republika Srpska, is for the siege.[13]


From its creation following World War II, the government of Yugoslavia kept a close watch on nationalist sentiment among the many ethnic and religious groups that composed the country, as it could have led to chaos and the breakup of the state. When Yugoslavia's longtime leader Marshal Tito died in 1980 this policy of containment underwent a dramatic reversal.

Nationalism experienced a renaissance in the 1980s after violence had erupted in Kosovo.[14] While the goal of Serbian nationalists was the centralisation of a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, other nationalities in Yugoslavia aspired to the federalisation and the decentralisation of the state.[15][16]

On 18 November 1990, the first multi-party parliamentary elections were held in Bosnia and Herzegovina (with a 2nd round on 25 November), which resulted in a national assembly dominated by three ethnically based parties, which had formed a loose coalition to oust the communists from power.[17] Croatia and Slovenia's subsequent declarations of independence and the warfare that ensued placed Bosnia and Herzegovina and its three constituent peoples in an awkward position. A significant split soon developed on the issue of whether to stay with the Yugoslav federation (overwhelmingly favored among Serbs) or to seek independence (overwhelmingly favored among Bosniaks and Croats).

The Serb members of parliament, consisting mainly of Serb Democratic Party members, abandoned the central parliament in Sarajevo, and formed the Assembly of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 24 October 1991, which marked the end of the tri-ethnic coalition that governed after the elections in 1990. This Assembly established the Serbian Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina on 9 January 1992, which became the Republika Srpska in August 1992.

A declaration of Bosnian sovereignty on 15 October 1991 was followed by a referendum for independence from Yugoslavia on 29 February and 1 March 1992. This referendum was boycotted by the vast majority of the Serbs. The turnout in the independence referendum was 63.4% and 99.7% of voters voted for independence.[18] Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence on 3 March 1992. Following a period of escalating tensions the opening shots in the incipient Bosnian conflict were fired when Serb paramilitary forces attacked Bosnian Croat villages around Capljina on 7 March 1992 and around Bosanski Brod and Bosniak town Goražde on 15 March. These minor attacks were followed by much more serious Serb artillery attacks on Neum on 19 March, on Bosanski Brod on 24 and 30 March 1992 on Bijeljina.

Start of the war

On 1 March 1992, a Serb wedding in downtown Sarajevo was attacked. Nikola Gardović, the groom's father, was killed.[19] The attackers were reportedly Muslims, and it is alleged that they were provoked when the wedding guests brandished Serbian flags as the wedding procession moved through the area of old bazaar Baščaršija.[20]

The next day, Serb paramilitaries set up barricades and sniper positions near Sarajevo's parliament building, but the threatened military coup d'état was thwarted by thousands of Sarajevo citizens who took to the streets in front of the snipers.[21] Following the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina's declaration of independence from Yugoslavia on 3 March 1992, sporadic fighting broke out between Serbs and government forces all across the territory.[22] It continued through the run-up to Bosnia and Herzegovina's recognition as an independent state.[23]

On 5 April, ethnic Serb policemen attacked police stations and then an Interior Ministry training school. The attack killed two officers and one civilian. The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared a state of emergency the following day.[23] Later that day, Serb paramilitaries in Sarajevo repeated their action of the previous month. A crowd of peace marchers, between 50,000 and 100,000 comprising all ethnic groups, rallied in protest.[21] As the largest section moved towards the parliament building, gunmen shot and killed two young women in the crowd, Suada Dilberović, a Bosniak, and Olga Sučić (b. 1958), a Croat. They are regarded as the first casualties of the siege.[24] Vrbanja Bridge, where they were killed, has since been renamed in their honor. Six Serb snipers were arrested, but were exchanged when the Serbs threatened to kill the commandant of the Bosnian police academy arrested the previous day with the takeover of the academy.[25][26][25][26]

On 6 April, twelve European Community foreign ministers announced that their countries would recognize the independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[27] Recognition by the United States followed the next day.[23] Shortly after this, armed conflict broke out. The Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) attacked the Ministry of Training Academy in Vraca, the central tramway depot and the Old Town district with mortars, artillery and tank fire, and also seized control of Sarajevo's airport.[11] The Bosnian government had expected the international community to deploy a peacekeeping force following recognition, but it did not materialize in time to prevent war from breaking out across the country.

Territories controlled by Serb forces

Bosnian Serb and JNA troops overwhelmed the poorly equipped and unprepared government security forces to take control of large areas of Bosnian territory, beginning with attacks on Bosniak civilians in eastern Bosnia. Serb military, police and paramilitary forces attacked towns and villages and then, sometimes assisted by local Serb residents, applied what soon became their standard operating procedure: Bosniak houses and apartments were systematically ransacked or burned; civilians were rounded up, some beaten or killed; and men were separated from the women. Many of the men were forcibly removed to prison camps. The women were incarcerated in detention centres in extremely unhygienic conditions and suffered numerous atrocious abuses. Many were repeatedly raped. Survivors testified that Serb soldiers and police would visit the detention centres, select one or more women, take them out and rape them.[28]

On 22 April, a peace rally in front of the Republic Assembly building was broken up by shots that came from the Holiday Inn.[11] By the end of April, the form of the siege was largely established.

Suada Dilberović

Suada Dilberović was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia on 24 May 1968[29] to a Muslim Bosniak family. She came to Sarajevo to study medicine and was in her sixth year of study when the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina started in the early days of April 1992.

On 15 November 2007 the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sarajevo posthumously awarded Suada a medical degree.[30]

Early fighting for the city

A CIA map of the JNA attack on 2 May 1992

In the months leading up to the war, JNA forces in the region began to mobilize in the hills surrounding Sarajevo. Artillery, together with other ordnance and equipment that would prove key in the coming siege of the city, was deployed at this time. In April 1992, the Bosnian government under President Alija Izetbegović demanded that the government of Yugoslavia remove these forces. Slobodan Milošević, the president of Serbia, agreed only to withdraw individuals who originated from outside Bosnia's borders, an insignificant number.[6] JNA soldiers who were ethnic Serbs from Bosnia were transferred to the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) under the command of General Ratko Mladić, with the VRS having rescinded its allegiance to Bosnia a few days after Bosnia seceded from Yugoslavia.

On 2 May 1992, Bosnian Serb forces established a total blockade of the city. They blocked the major access roads, cutting supplies of food and medicine, and also cut off the city's utilities (e.g., water, electricity and heating). Although they possessed superior weaponry they were greatly outnumbered by ARBiH soldiers who were defending the city. After numerous JNA armored columns failed to take the city, the Serbs began to concentrate their efforts on weakening it by using continual bombardment from at least 200 reinforced positions and bunkers in the surrounding hills.

On 3 May 1992, members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) attacked a convoy of withdrawing Yugoslav National Army (JNA) soldiers on Dobrovoljačka Street in Sarajevo, killing 6 and wounding many more.[31] The attack is thought to have been in retaliation for the arrest of Bosnia's Muslim President Alija Izetbegović, who was detained at Sarajevo Airport by Yugoslav police the previous day.[32]

On 30 August 1992, an artillery shell crashed into a crowded marketplace on the western edge of Sarajevo. The resulting explosion killed 15 people and wounded 100 others.

Dutch reporter Robert Dulmers at Hakija Turajlić's graveside, Ali Pasha Mosque, March 1993

On 8 January 1993, Hakija Turajlić, the Deputy Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was assassinated by a Bosnian Serb soldier.[33] Turajlić, who had gone to Sarajevo airport to greet a Turkish delegation, was returning to the city in a United Nations armored vehicle that had taken him there when a force of two tanks and 40–50 Bosnian Serb soldiers blockaded the road. The Serbs, acting on radioed information from a Serbian military liaison officer at the airport that "Turkish fighters" were on their way to reinforce the Bosnian defenders, accused the three French soldiers manning the armored vehicle of transporting "Turkish mujahedeen". After a Serbian military liaison officer identified the passenger as Turajlić, the Serbs ordered the UN soldiers to hand him over. The rear door was opened, and one of the Serbs fired seven shots at Turajlić from an automatic weapon. Six bullets struck him in the chest and arms, killing him instantly.[34] A Bosnian Serb soldier, Goran Vasić, was eventually charged with Turajlić's murder but was ultimately acquitted of that charge in 2002.[35]


Sarajevo residents collecting firewood, winter of 1992–1993
Examples of weapons used against Sarajevans displayed at Sarajevo Tunnel Museum.

The second half of 1992 and the first half of 1993 were the height of the siege of Sarajevo, and atrocities were committed during heavy fighting. Serb forces outside the city continuously shelled the government defenders. Inside the city, the Serbs controlled most of the major military positions and the supply of arms. With snipers taking up positions in the city, signs reading Pazite, Snajper! ("Beware, Sniper!") became commonplace and certain particularly dangerous streets, most notably Ulica Zmaja od Bosne, the main street which eventually leads to the airport, were known as "sniper alleys". The sniper killings of Admira Ismić and Boško Brkić, a mixed Bosnian-Serbian couple who tried to cross the lines, became a symbol of the suffering in the city.[36]

Bosnian Serb offensives were mounted to take over some neighborhoods, especially in Novo Sarajevo. To counterbalance the siege, on 30 May 1992 the Security Council demanded Sarajevo Airport be included in a Sarajevo security zone,[37] which was opened to UN airlifts in late June; Sarajevo's survival became strongly dependent on them.

Compared with the siege force, the Bosnian government forces were very poorly armed. Bosnian black market criminals who joined the army at the outset of the war illegally smuggled arms into the city through Serb lines, and raids on Serb-held positions within the city yielded more. The Sarajevo Tunnel, completed in mid-1993, was a major asset in bypassing the international arms embargo (applied to all parties to the Bosnian conflict, including the defenders of Sarajevo). It helped supplies and weaponry reach the city's defenders, and enabled some inhabitants to leave. The tunnel was said to have saved Sarajevo.

Reports indicated an average of approximately 329 shell impacts per day during the course of the siege, with a maximum of 3,777 on 22 July 1993.[6] This urbicide by shellfire extensively damaged the city's structures, both residential and cultural. By September 1993 it was estimated that virtually all the buildings in Sarajevo had suffered some degree of damage, and 35,000 were completely destroyed.[6] Among buildings targeted and destroyed were hospitals and medical complexes, media and communication centres, industrial complexes, government buildings and military and UN facilities. Other significant buildings damaged or destroyed included the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the National Library, which was set on fire and burned to the ground, destroying thousands of irreplaceable texts.[38]

Overall view of downtown Grbavica, a suburb of Sarajevo. March 1996
Citizens of Sarajevo in line for water.

The shelling took a heavy toll on residents. Mass killings of civilians, primarily by mortar attacks, made headline news in the West. On 1 June 1993, 11 people were killed and 133 were wounded[39] in an attack on a football game. On 12 July, twelve people were killed while waiting in line for water.

The biggest single loss of life was the first Markale marketplace massacre on 5 February 1994, in which 68 civilians were killed and 200 were wounded. Medical facilities were overwhelmed by the scale of the civilian casualties, and only a small number of the wounded benefited from medical evacuation programmes like 1993's Operation Irma.[40]

NATO intervention

A Bosnian Serb target is hit by U.S. aircraft
The remains of the building of Sarajevo newspaper Oslobođenje, kept as a memorial for several years after the siege

On 6 February 1994, a day after the first Markale marketplace massacre, UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali formally requested NATO to confirm that air strikes would be carried out immediately.[41] On 9 February 1994, agreeing to the request of the UN, the North Atlantic Council of NATO authorized the Commander of Allied Forces Southern Europe (CINCSOUTH), U.S. Admiral Jeremy Boorda, to launch air strikes against artillery and mortar positions in and around Sarajevo that were determined by UNPROFOR to be responsible for attacks against civilian targets.[42][43] Only Greece failed to support the use of airstrikes, but did not veto the proposal.[41] The Council also issued an ultimatum at the 9 February meeting to the Bosnian Serbs demanding that they remove heavy weapons around Sarajevo by midnight of 20–21 February or face air strikes.[41] There was some confusion surrounding compliance with the ultimatum, and Hungarian Prime Minister Péter Boross announced that his country's air space would be closed to NATO aircraft in the event of airstrikes.[41] On 12 February 1994, Sarajevo enjoyed its first casualty-free day in 22 months (since April 1992).[41]

On 5 August, the VRS seized several weapons from the Illidža Weapons Collection site in clear violation of the exclusion zone agreement. During the seizure, the Serbs injured a Ukrainian UNPROFOR peacekeeper. In response to the attack, the UN once again requested NATO air support. Two U.S. A-10 aircraft repeatedly strafed Serb targets, prompting the Serbs to return the seized weapons to the collection site.[44]

On 22 September, UNPROFOR again requested NATO air support in the Sarajevo area after Serb forces attacked a French armored personnel carrier. In response, two British SEPECAT Jaguar aircraft struck and destroyed a Serb tank.[45]

Bosnian Army Offensive Operations in the Sarajevo Region, 15–22 June 1995

As the fighting gradually widened in 1995, Bosnian Muslim forces launched a large-scale offensive in the area of Sarajevo. In response to the attack, the Bosnian Serbs seized heavy weapons from a UN-guarded depot, and began shelling targets.[46] As a retaliation for these actions, the UN commander, Lt. General Rupert Smith, requested NATO air strikes. NATO honored the request on 25 May and 26 May 1995 by bombing a Serb ammunition dump near Pale.[45] The mission was carried out by USAF F-16s and Spanish Air Force EF-18As Hornet armed with laser-guided bombs.[47] The Serbs then seized 377 UNPROFOR hostages and used them as human shields for a variety of targets in Bosnia, forcing NATO to end its strikes.[48]

On 27 May 1995, Serb soldiers posing as French troops captured two UN observation posts at either end of the front-line Vrbanja bridge without firing a shot. They wore French uniforms, flak jackets and helmets, were armed with French weapons and drove a French armoured personnel carrier (APC) – all stolen from UN troops detained outside the city. The soldiers disarmed the 12 peacekeepers at gunpoint. Ten were taken to an unknown destination while two remained on the bridge as human shields. The French responded by sending 30 troops, backed by six light tanks, to storm the northern end of the bridge. Two French soldiers were killed in the clash and five were wounded, while four Serb soldiers were killed and four were taken prisoner. At the end of the day, the Serbs remained in control of the southern portion of the bridge, while the French occupied the northern portion.[49] The Serbs later abandoned the southern portion of the bridge.

In 1995, the international forces firmly turned against the besiegers after the second Markale massacre of 28 August, in which 37 people were killed and 90 wounded. On 30 August, the Secretary General of NATO announced the start of air strikes, supported by UNPROFOR rapid reaction force artillery attacks.[50] On that same day, a French Mirage 2000 was downed by a Bosnian Serb shoulder-fired SAM near Pale.[51]

On 1 September, NATO and the UN demanded the lifting of the siege, removal of heavy weapons from the heavy weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo, and complete security of other UN safe areas. The Bosnian Serb leaders were given a deadline of 4 September, and the Operation Deliberate Force bombing campaign was suspended. Heavy weapons had not been removed when the deadline passed. On 5 September, air strikes resumed on Bosnian Serb positions around Sarajevo and near the Bosnian Serb headquarters at Pale.

On 14 September, they were again suspended, this time to allow the implementation of an agreement with the Bosnian Serbs which included the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the exclusion zone. Finally, on 20 September 1995, French General Bernard Janvier (Commander of UNPROFOR) and U.S. Admiral Leighton W. Smith, Jr. (CINCSOUTH) agreed that it was not necessary to resume the strikes as the Bosnian Serbs had complied with the UN's conditions. Operation Deliberate Force was terminated.[52]

Lifting of the siege

Fighting escalated on the ground as joint Bosnian and Croatian forces went on the offensive. The Serbs were slowly driven back in Sarajevo and elsewhere, which eventually allowed the city's heating, electricity and water supplies to be restored. A ceasefire was reached in October 1995. On 14 December, the Dayton Agreement brought peace to the country and led to stabilization.

One of the last acts of hostility of the siege occurred at around 6 pm on 9 January 1996, when a single rocket-propelled grenade was fired at a tram running down the main street of Sarajevo, killing a 55-year-old woman, Mirsada Durić, and wounding 19 others.[53] The grenade was fired from the neighborhood of Grbavica, which was held by the Serbs at the time. After the attack, French troops from the Implementation Force (IFOR) searched the building from which the grenade was launched but did not capture the perpetrator(s). No person has ever been arrested for the attack.

The Bosnian government officially declared an end to the siege of Sarajevo on 29 February 1996, when Bosnian Serb forces left positions in and around the city. More than 70,000 Sarajevan Serbs subsequently left the Muslim-controlled districts of the city and moved to the Republika Srpska, taking all of their belongings with them.[54]



The Martyrs' Memorial Cemetery Kovači for victims of the war in Stari Grad

The besieged population comprised not only Bosniaks and Croats, but also Serbs that had remained in the town and who were killed by fire from the besieging VRS forces. Hundreds of Serbian civilians were killed by Bosniaks during the war.[55] The 1991 census indicates that before the siege the city and its surrounding areas had a population of 525,980. There are estimates that prior to the siege the population in the city proper was 435,000. Estimates of the current population range between 300,000 and 380,000. A large number of Sarajevans were killed or wounded throughout the siege. In 1994, a report filed on the total number of deaths over a span of 315 days concluded that 2,474 persons died, with an average of approximately eight killed in the city per day. A report on the total number of persons wounded over a span of 306 days concluded that 13,472 were wounded, an average of approximately 44 per day. This same report estimated the number of people killed or missing in the city to be nearly 10,000, including over 1,500 children. An additional 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children.[6] A report produced by the ICTY after the war put the death toll of the siege at 4,548 ARBiH soldiers and 4,954 Sarajevan civilians killed.[56][57] The Research and Documentation Center in Sarajevo (RDC) found that the siege left a total of 13,952 people dead: 9,429 Bosniaks, 3,573 Serbs, 810 Croats and 140 others. Of these, 6,137 were ARBiH soldiers and 2,241 were soldiers fighting either for the JNA or the VRS. Of the ARBiH soldiers killed, 235 were Serbs, 328 were Croats and the rest were Bosniaks. Sixty percent of all people killed in Sarajevo during the siege were soldiers. In particular, 44 percent of all fatalities were ARBiH personnel. A total of 5,434 civilians were killed during the siege, including 3,855 Bosniaks, 1,097 Serbs and 482 Croats. More than 66 percent of those killed during the siege were Bosniaks, 25.6 percent were Serbs, 5.8 percent were Croats and 1 percent were others. About 14.5 percent of all Bosnian War fatalities occurred in besieged Sarajevo.[58] Officials of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina have estimated that at least 150 Sarajevan Serb civilians were killed by government forces, while Serb nationalists and Republika Srpska officials have put the number at "many thousands". However, efforts to substantiate Bosnian Serb claims have been unconvincing.[59]

The siege affected all sectors of Sarajevo's population. UNICEF reported that of the estimated 65,000 to 80,000 children in the city, at least 40% had been directly shot at by snipers; 51% had seen someone killed; 39% had seen one or more family members killed; 19% had witnessed a massacre; 48% had their home occupied by someone else; 73% had their home attacked or shelled; and 89% had lived in underground shelters. It is probable that the psychological trauma suffered during the siege will bear heavily on the lives of these children in the years to come. As a result of the high number of casualties and the wartime conditions, there are makeshift cemeteries throughout Sarajevo and its surrounding areas. Parks, athletic fields and other open spaces were utilized as graveyards. One such site is the sports complex built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. A 1994 report stated that "the siege has also had a profound effect on the psyche and future of the city's population. The Bosnian Government has reported a soaring suicide rate by Sarajevans, a near doubling of abortions and a 50% drop in births since the siege began."[6]

A memorial with the names of 521 children killed during the siege was unveiled on 9 May 2010. The cases of another 500 children are being verified.[60]

Mezarje Stadion Cemetery, Patriotske lige, Sarajevo.

Structural and property damage and destruction

Vedran Smailović playing in the partially destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992
Heavily damaged apartment buildings near Vrbanja bridge in the Grbavica district on the left bank of the Miljacka river
Destruction in Sarajevo's Dobrinja district photographed after the siege

The structural and property damage in Sarajevo as a result of the siege included specifically protected targets such as hospitals and medical complexes, medical facilities (including ambulances) and medical personnel, as well as cultural property, such as the manuscript collection of the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, one of the richest collections of Oriental manuscripts in the world.[61] For foreigners, an event that defined the besiegers' cultural objectives occurred during the night of 25 August 1992. This was the bombardment – with incendiary shells – that resulted in the total destruction of the irreplaceable National and University Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the central repository of Bosnian written culture and a major cultural center for all the Balkans. Among the losses were about 700 manuscripts and incunabula, and a unique collection of Bosnian serial publications, some from the middle of the 19th-century Bosnian cultural revival. Libraries all over the world cooperated afterwards to restore some of the lost heritage, through donations and e-texts, rebuilding the Library in cyberspace.

Also unjustified by any military necessity, and equally prohibited, were the attacks on civilian property. The Bosnian government estimated that shelling destroyed over 10,000 apartments and damaged over 100,000 others. Of the other buildings in the city, 23% were reported as seriously damaged, 64% as partially damaged and 10% as slightly damaged. In its report, the Council of Europe's Committee on Culture and Education commented on the structural damage in the city.[6] The Committee stated:

It is plain that Sarajevo has suffered badly at the hands of its attackers. Apart from the obvious human cost in the continued suffering and difficulties of day to day living, there has been serious damage to the urban fabric. The infrastructure (drainage, electricity, telephone services, etc.) is badly damaged. Most buildings are damaged significantly and probably all buildings are damaged to a greater or lesser degree (broken glass etc.). Some buildings have been completely destroyed including ancient monuments (such as the Library) and including a number of modern steel framed buildings (such as the Unis Building) which in some cases have simply collapsed. 35,000 dwellings are also assessed to have been destroyed during the past year.[6]

Sarajevo has made a substantial recovery in terms of the number of buildings that have been fully restored and reoccupied. However, as of 2011, many buildings remained heavily damaged and scarred.

Although the city had been a model for inter-ethnic relations, the siege brought dramatic population shifts. In addition to the thousands of refugees who left the city, many Sarajevo Serbs left for the Republika Srpska, and the percentage of Serbs in Sarajevo decreased from more than 30% in 1991 to slightly over 10% in 2002. Regions of Novo Sarajevo that are now part of the Republika Srpska have formed East Sarajevo, where much of the prewar Serbian population lives today.

New construction projects and foreign capital investment have made Sarajevo perhaps the fastest-growing city in the former Yugoslavia. The population grew to 401,000 in 2002, which is 20,000 fewer than the pre-1991 census estimate.

An iconic building before the war was Robna kuća Sarajka. Today BBI Centar stands in its place.

ICTY convictions

On 5 December 2003 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted the first commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, General Stanislav Galić, of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo, including the first Markale massacre.[11] Galić was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crimes against humanity during the siege.[11]

In the case against Stanislav Galić, the prosecution alleged in an opening statement that:

The siege of Sarajevo, as it came to be popularly known, was an episode of such notoriety in the conflict in the former Yugoslavia that one must go back to World War II to find a parallel in European history. Not since then had a professional army conducted a campaign of unrelenting violence against the inhabitants of a European city so as to reduce them to a state of medieval deprivation in which they were in constant fear of death. In the period covered in this Indictment, there was nowhere safe for a Sarajevan, not at home, at school, in a hospital, from deliberate attack.
Prosecution Opening Statement, ICTY vs Stanislav Galić, 2003[62]

In 2007, General Dragomir Milošević,[12] who replaced Galić as commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, was found guilty of the shelling and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo and its citizens from August 1994 to late 1995, including the second Markale massacre. He was sentenced to 29 years in prison. The ICTY concluded that the Markale town market was hit on 28 August 1995 by a 120 mm mortar shell fired from Sarajevo-Romanija Corps positions.[12]

In 2011, the former Chief of the General Staff of the Yugoslav Army, General Momčilo Perišić, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for aiding and abetting murder because the Yugoslav army under his supervision provided "large-scale logistic support in ammunition, fuel and spare parts" as well as "necessary expert assistance" to the VRS during the siege.[63] According to an estimate of the Main Staff from 1994, the VRS received about 25 million bullets and over 7,500 shells from the Yugoslav army to wage the war in Bosnia. However, the judges ruled that Perišić did not have effective control over the VRS officers, who largely fought independently of his instructions yet still received payment and benefits from Belgrade.[63][64] In 2013, Perišić's conviction was overturned and he was released from prison.[65]

On 24 March 2016 Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić was found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Srebrenica and other areas of Bosnia during the war in the 1990s. Karadžić was acquitted of one of those charges of genocide in Muslim regions of Bosnia. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, with allowance for the time he has already spent behind bars. He has been held since 2008.[66]


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  1. 5 April 1992 was the date of the first attack on Sarajevo by the JNA and Serb paramilitaries and is considered the beginning of the siege. However, as early as 1 March 1992, barricades and gunmen started appearing on the streets of Sarajevo.
  2. 29 February 1996 was the official end of the siege as declared by the Bosnian government. The war ended with the signing of the Dayton Accords on 21 November 1995 and the Paris Protocol on 14 December 1995. The reason that the siege was not declared as over was because the Serbs had not yet implemented the Dayton deal that required them to withdraw from areas north and west of Sarajevo as well as other parts of the city. The Serbs also violated the Dayton peace by firing a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) at a Sarajevo tram on 9 January 1996, killing 1 and wounding 19.
  3. Connelly, Charlie (8 October 2005). "The new siege of Sarajevo". The Times. UK. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
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Coordinates: 43°50′51″N 18°21′23″E / 43.8476°N 18.3564°E / 43.8476; 18.3564 (Sarajevo)

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