Chronicle of a death in Sarajevo

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The Independent Online
PARIS (AFP) - The following is the text of a statement by the French Defence Minister, Pierre Joxe, on 'the circumstances of the assassination' of the Bosnian deputy prime minister, Hakija Turajlic.

'On 8 January at 4.30pm the French infantry battalion in Sarajevo learned via the radio network that an armoured vehicle from the command company had been stopped at the Serbian roadblock in Kasindol Street, 400 metres from the airport, because one of its passengers was unable to produce documents permitting free passage.

'At the same moment, another armoured vehicle had been stopped at the same roadblock. The Serbs wanted to detain one of the civilian workers with the battalion, even though his papers were in order. The head of the battalion, Colonel Sartre, went to the scene and negotiated the passage of the armoured vehicle in which the civilian worker was travelling. He also negotiated the passage of two troop carriers belonging to British troops, in which there were Muslim passengers and drivers from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whom the Serbs did not want to let through, and of two Ukrainian armoured vehicles.

'The roadblock was formed by tracked armoured vehicles armed with 25mm cannons and about 50 militiamen armed with anti-tank weapons, Kalashnikov assault rifles and other automatic weapons. The militia got into an argument with the head of the French battalion about the passenger of the command company's armoured vehicle. They had recognised the Bosnian deputy prime minister, Hakija Turajlic. They accused the United Nations Protection Force of 'complicity with their enemy' and became increasingly aggressive.

'The French officer tried to negotiate passage of the last armoured vehicle with local leaders who had arrived on the scene, whom he knew. During the course of the discussion, which lasted close to one hour and 45 minutes, the tension continued to mount. The highest-ranking Serb said he was going to seize the passenger of the French armoured vehicle. Colonel Sartre positioned himself in front of the back door to the vehicle, with a legionnaire on either side of him. A Serb militiaman forcibly kept the door open. The head of the French battalion and the two legionnaires were held at gunpoint, at point-blank range, for nearly half an hour, facing two rocket-propelled grenades and five automatic weapons. Meanwhile, the Serb leaders were persuaded to await orders from their superiors and undertook to lessen the tension among their militiamen.

'The tension had almost dropped and the French officer was hoping to be able to negotiate closure of the doors of the armoured vehicle when two or three very angry militiamen tried to pull him out of the doorway. The Serb leaders intervened. One of the militiamen then stepped back and brandished a high-calibre pistol, firing several shots over the left shoulder of the head of the French battalion, in the direction of the Bosnian minister.

'The Serb militiaman was overcome by his fellow soldiers, then broke free and was able to fire several other shots. Visibly frightened by what had just happened, the Serb leaders immediately opened the road to allow evacuation of the wounded man. The Bosnian deputy premier was immediately taken to a medical centre in the post office building, where it was established that he had died.'

(Photograph omitted)