Weary Bihac cries with joy as siege ends


As we pulled into Bihac the hands reached out, the children danced and the old people cried. The three-year siege was over, and we were the final proof.

"Now I see you, my life begins again", said Hojic Mayo, and his words were echoed in every street and from every balcony and window.

The Muslims here appeared emaciated, tired and weather-beaten.They looked like a people who had scraped for food and had constantly run for shelter to escape the shells for those three long years.

And they looked like people who had almost lost all faith in the outside world to relieve their plight, caught between Bosnian Serb and renegade Muslim forces. But, as they stared at us long and hard, the relief began to show on all their faces.

"Welcome ... welcome, we are free", they cried. And within a hour of our arrival they were dreaming of a better future, of being joined to Bosnia and to the world beyond once again.

"Now we have friends all around. We will chase the Serbs far away. We have arms to take Banja Luka", boasted one soldier who had lost two brothers in the fighting.

"The siege is lifted here. Next it will be Sarajevo."

Bihac, the enclave, the pocket, the same area whatever term the Western big powers have chosen to describe this small community, lay quietly yesterday in the deep green folds of a flat valley as we drove down towards it.

Our route had taken us across the still smoking terrain of "liberated" Krajina across the border in Croatia. Since the Croatian forces have recaptured their Serb-occupied territory, the Serb guns over this Muslim town have fallen quiet.

Two days ago the Croatian army linked up at this border checkpoint with the Bosnian forces to end the stranglehold in force since 1991. And our convoy of journalists and Croatian soldiers brought the first civilians to the town since the start of the siege .

As we passed through the last deserted Serb villages on the Croatian side we made our first contact with the Bihac Muslims who were out in desperation looting the food, cutlery and clothing left behind by the Serbs who had fled. They were also looking for arms left behind by the Serb militia that had shelled their town.

Bihac has had few food convoys throughout the three years, only the occasional airlift. The wreckage of the bombing lay all around. Sandbags were piled high against houses and bunkers were dotted on street corners. Half the population seemed to be in military fatigues.

"The Serbs, they have gone up into the hills, far away", said Mithet, a 24-year-old mother leaning over the balcony and staring in confusion at the sight of Westerners tramping along her street.

Slowly, the words stumbled out. The people were still dazed as they tried suddenly to tell the history of the past three years.

"Life has been difficult. There have been a lot of bombs and a lot of dead," said a young mother, standing on a street of empty kiosks, empty shops and rubble.

Cars have almost disappeared from the streets of what was once a relatively prosperous community. There has been nowhere to go and little fuel. The post office yesterday was piled high with sandbags. Almost every telephone line has been cut since 1991 .

Behind us on the road we knew that a large convoy of food and humanitarian aid was following. But the people of Bihac had not seen it yet.

"We went to a kitchen for all the people every day. We have shared out the food and grown our own. We have eaten bread and fruit and a little meat. But look at us. We are so thin," said Makajc Fakira, a 37-year-old mother who says she had not left Bihac for five years. "My brother is dead and many friends in the war, but now you give us hope."

The Muslims of Bihac are now putting their trust in Croatia to ensure their freedom lasts. Their suffering has been intense and memories are short.

Few yesterday recalled fierce Muslim-Croat fighting in Bosnia earlier in the war and few doubted the good intentions towards them now of the Zagreb government.

As the Croatian assault on Krajina began last Friday the people of Bihac huddled around their few radios for news.

"I knew when I heard Knin had fallen that we might be saved," said one woman. But her husband was not so sure. "The war will not be over until all of Bosnia is free," he said.

With our convoy came Croatian soldiers, happy now to show the journalists their achievement in lifting the siege of Bihac, which all the resources of the world had failed to achieve.

The Muslims embraced the Croats as brothers and sisters. A young boy carried a Croatian flag and the Croatian forces were cheered on past.

An old man turned to tell us: "You must tell the world about us now. We thought we were forgotten."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...