Sarajevo atrocity turns market into bloodbath

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The Independent Online
IN THE worst single atrocity of the war in Bosnia, at least 66 people were killed and up to 200 wounded yesterday when a mortar bomb slammed into Sarajevo's main open-air market shortly after noon. The projectile hit a stall in the middle of the market which was crammed with people bartering food and clothes.

'Some people were literally torn apart,' an eyewitness said. 'Heads and limbs were ripped off bodies.' The sound of sirens filled the streets of the battered city and a flood of wounded men, women and children overwhelmed medical teams at the hospitals.

The attack immediately raised presure on Nato to carry out its endlessly deferred threat to strike at Serbs besieging Sarajevo. President Clinton called on the United Nations urgently to identify those who attacked the market in Sarajevo and directed the Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, to consult with US allies on 'appropriate next steps'.

Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence, who flies in to Bosnia today from Munich where he was attending a European security conference, questioned the value of military intervention to end the conflict. 'The rest of the world cannot send in armies into what is a cruel and vicious civil war,' Mr Rifkind said. 'Clearly for civilians to be massacred in this way, whether it's by Serbs, whether it's Croats, whether Muslims, does not advance any military objective. It is simply useless carnage.'

Asked if the carnage increased pressure on the UN and Nato to do something, Mr Rifkind replied: 'If by that question are you meaning, can the rest of the world impose an external military solution, I don't think anyone seriously argues that that is possible.'

The shoppers never heard death coming. A single 120mm mortar round, as silent as it was deadly, landed amid the crowd, cutting down scores of people where they stood. The lucky died quickly. Many, though, bled slowly to death while waiting for help.

Kosevo hospital was inundated with the wounded arriving in ambulances, cars, trucks and vans. Some were carried on the canvas used to cover the market stalls. Hundreds of Sarajevans gathered outside the mortuary, weeping and screaming as the names of the dead were read out. As night fell, the death toll was still rising.

The attack, which followed one on Friday when 10 Sarajevans died, is the latest sign that 22 months into the Bosnian war, the conflict is growing increasingly desperate. Since the virtual collapse of the Geneva peace talks last autumn, Serbs, Croats and Muslims have all emphasised their determination to solve by fighting what they cannot by talking.

Food queues and markets have been the scenes of the most horrible deaths. In May 1992, a mortar bomb fell among dozens of people waiting for bread in a Sarajevo street. Sixteen died in what quickly became known as the Bread Queue Massacre.

It was a turning point in the international community's approach to the war. Feeling the growing pressure of public opinion for some form of action, the UN imposed a harsh regime of economic sanctions on the Serbs whom they blamed for the massacre. Few believe that yesterday's atrocity will attract such a robust response.

The mainly Muslim Bosnian government immediately accused the Serbs of being behind yesterday's shelling. Serbs deny the charges. Miroslav Toholj, 'information minister' of the self-styled Bosnian Serb republic, told the Independent on Sunday that the Muslims were responsible. 'Serbs don't kill civilians,' he said.

The Bosnian Serb army threatened to halt UN aid distribution unless it was cleared of responsibility for the attack. The UN is analysing the crater left in the market, to try to determine its source. But whoever fired the mortar yesterday did so with the intention of killing the maximum number of civilians.

The Foreign Office yesterday played down the Nato air-strike option, preferring to focus on UN powers. A spokesman said that Britain hoped that tomorrow's Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels would adopt a 'strong line on UN action'.

This is likely to involve the more efficent application of rules of engagement by the new British commander, General Sir Michael Rose.

Additional reporting by Tony Barber and Annika Savill

Further reports, page 12

(Photograph omitted)