Sarajevo bomb suspects protest their innocence: Serbs try to exonerate themselves under threat of Nato air strikes against those laying siege to the Bosnian capital

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The Independent Online
IN SERBIA, the theoreticians of violent death are working overtime. Since Saturday's attack on Sarajevo's Markale market, it has been virtually impossible to turn on the television or open a newspaper without being confronted by experts expounding on a myriad ideas about who was responsible for the worst atrocity in Bosnia's 22-month war.

The Serbian explanations, ranging from a specially designed mine, planted by a 'third force', to tank shells fired by Bosnia's Muslim leader to provoke Western air attacks, are based on two central premises. First, it was claimed that a single 120mm mortar shell, which the United Nations says hit the busy market, was not capable of causing 265 casualties, including 68 dead. Second, and most important, is that the Serbs could not have been responsible for the attack.

The various theories have gained widespread political currency in Serbia since the UN announced on Sunday that, although the attack fit a pattern of Serbian shelling of the city, it was impossible to blame any party because important evidence, such as a perfect impact crater, was missing.

The whole question of blame has been crucial for both Western leaders and the Serbs because the threat of carrying out Nato air strikes against the Serbian besiegers of Sarajevo has hinged on who launched the attack.

Western leaders are dismissive of Serbian protestations of innocence which they interpret as a last desperate attempt to blur responsibility for the atrocity and avoid foreign military intervention.

The prospect of Nato air strikes seems to have focused Bosnian Serbs' minds. Since the attack, the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, has agreed for the first time to discuss the demilitarisation of Sarajevo when peace talks resume in Geneva tomorrow. In addition, in the 24 hours since the European Union decided to back the use of air power against the Serbs, the number of Serbian shells landing on Sarajevo has dropped to 34, between a fifth and a tenth of the average daily number.

Mr Karadzic, apparently not willing to take chances, said last night he was sending letters to President Bill Clinton and the Russian leader, Boris Yeltsin, with what he said was evidence that Saturday's attack was staged by the Muslims. He claimed there were various explanations for what happened, all of which absolved the Bosnian Serbs of responsibility.

In one of the more elaborate theories, a so-called expert in military research and development claimed that the only weapon capable of inflicting the kind of casualties seen in Sarajevo was an experimental anti-personnel mine the size of a tin of beans.

In an interview accompanied by a scientific-looking graphic, Colonel Milovam Rundic told the Serbian daily, Politika, that 'none of the projectiles fired from our mortars, regardless of their calibre, could have had such a devastating effect . . . I think we are dealing with an anti-infantry mine with circular fragmentation, much like the one which was developed by but never incorporated into the Yugoslav army arsenal'. Being a mine, it had to be planted locally which, the colonel said, 'of course excludes the Serbs from suspicion'.

Although he does not directly accuse the Bosnian government of staging the massacre, Colonel Rundic pointed out that the factory which was developing the mine is in a central Bosnian town controlled by Muslims and added that the man in charge of the project was a Muslim. He concludes that the attack was 'a product of a

cold, calculating criminal mind, familiar with military technology'.

Despite the heavily vested interests of the Serbs in proving that they were not responsible for the attack, some Western military authorities such as Paul Beaver, the editor of Jane's Defence Weekly, said that some of the Serbian claims are worth further investigation. He said that of particular interest was the notion that a single 120mm mortar shell could not have caused nearly 300 casualties.

'I find it difficult to con template that a 120mm mortar could cause this number of casualties even in a confined space like the market . . . 68 dead is theoretically possible but in practice I'm not aware of such a high number ever having been killed by a single shell.'

One explanation is that some minor injuries that did not result directly from the explosion, but from the crush of people seeking to leave the market in the aftermath of the attack, may have been included in the total figure of casualties who were injured by the mortar shell.

(Photograph omitted)