Conflict & Justice

Red chairs line Sarajevo street as Bosnia marks 20 years since war (VIDEO)


A former sniper position on slopes of mount Trebevic gives a view of Bosnian capital Sarajevo, on April 2, 2012.



Bosnians have marked 20 years since the start of the Bosnian war by lining up 11,541 blood-red chairs in rows along Sarajevo's main street -- one for every man, woman and child killed in the siege.

Hundreds of the chairs are small, representing the children slain in one of the most vicious conflicts in Europe since World War II, one that pitted Serbs, Croats and Muslims against one another and hastened the disintegration of Yugoslavia into seven states.

“All those people, look at all the people killed. Look at this river of blood," the Irish Times quoted tearful economist Mebrura Libric as saying.

Toys and schoolbooks were placed on some chairs, white roses on others, the Times wrote.

"The amount of chairs really hit me, especially the little ones," said Ana Macanovic, who lost seven relatives in the conflict.

"This city needs to stop for a moment and pay tribute to its killed citizens," the Associated Press quoted Haris Pasovic, organizer of the "Sarajevo Red Line," as saying.

The Bosnian war began after most of its people backed independence from Serbia in a February 1992 referendum, with the vote splitting along ethnic lines -- Bosniaks and Croats opting for independence, and Bosnian Serbs preferring to stay with Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

The result enraged nationalist Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, and also Bosnian Serb politicians, the Times wrote.

After Bosnia’s parliament declared independence on April 5, 1992, with the backing of European Community members and the US, Serb snipers fired on a crowd of 100,000 people rallying for peace in Sarajevo, killing six people.

In the following days and weeks, the population took cover as Serb gunners fired on the city from the hills surrounding it, according to the BBC.

Bosnian Serb forces then proceeded to drive Muslims and Croats from large swathes of territory in a campaign that became known as "ethnic cleansing," the Times wrote.

The Serb siege of Sarajevo went on for 44 months, longer than the World War II siege of Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, the AP wrote, adding that about 100,000 people died and 2 million people were forced from their homes in the Balkan conflict.

In Sarajevo, hit by around 330 shells a day, its 400,000 mostly Muslim residents were left without electricity, water or heat.

However, Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia, was the scene of the worst single atrocity, the BBC wrote -- in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces led by Gen. Ratko Mladic overran what a supposed UN safe haven and about 8,000 Muslim men and boys were taken away and killed.

The massacre prompted the UN to change the mandate for its mission to allow for force to be used to protect the population.

The main part of the conflict ended with the Dayton peace deal that in late 1995 split Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb-run Republika Srpska.

However, according to Reuters, the Balkan country is still deeply divided, ruled by ethnic quotas with power shared uneasily between Serbs, Croats and Muslims.

Meanwhile, its ex-Yugoslav neighbors -- namely Croatia and Montenegro -- are in the process of joining the EU, while Serbia became an official candidate for EU accession last month.

Meanwhile, Milosevic -- sent by Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Dindic in 2001 to stand trial on war crimes charges -- died of a heart attack in his prison cell in The Hague in 2006.

Mladic and his former political boss, Radovan Karadzic, are on trial at the UN court at The Hague for their role in events at Srebrenica and over the siege of Sarajevo.

Exhibitions, concerts and performances are also being held to commemorate the bloodshed.

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