Brigadier Ben Barry: I saw disturbing evidence of dark crimes all around me

Share
Related Topics

Over Christmas 1995, Second Battalion, The Light Infantry, deployed into western Bosnia, territory that had spent most of the war under Bosnian Serb control. All over our area we saw shocking evidence of ethnic cleansing that had taken place in 1992 as hardliners and paramilitaries worked their evil trade. We lost count of the number of houses, villages and even whole towns that had been destroyed. Houses were burnt out or blown up, with gaunt timbers poking at the sky. Most of this ethnic cleansing seemed to have been directed by Bosnian Serbs against Muslims and Croats.

Shocking as these sights were, we could not allow them to divert us from implementing the Dayton Agreement. At the time the Nato force was concentrating on its military tasks, and was mandated neither to conduct investigations into war crimes nor hunt for war criminals.

Throughout that dark winter we saw more disturbing evidence of war crimes. Many of the faction forces considered all men of military age to be legitimate targets. There was clear evidence that some commanders and paramilitary groups, including Arkan's notorious "Tigers", executed and tortured prisoners. Although many media reports proclaimed the Bosnian Serbs to be the sole perpetrators of these crimes, we heard and saw credible evidence of Muslim and Croat atrocities. There was no monopoly of evil.

With the melting of snows in the spring we discovered many bodies, some in mass graves, others in caves. Most of the corpses were wearing civilian clothes. We regularly visited the sites, aiming to deter attempts to interfere with the evidence.

We saw some hardline extremists demobilise from the armies and move into civil appointments, for example as mayors and police officers. A number of individuals suspected of war crimes became a malign influence, obstructing progress and making a bad situation worse.

After the battalion had left Bosnia, Britain and Nato decided to arrest indictees. The first such operation was mounted by British troops, and in the ensuing firefight one of the suspects was killed – a hardline paramilitary well known to us who had become a senior Bosnian Serb police officer.

Subsequent operations by British and Nato troops successfully detained other indicted war criminals from both Bosnian entities. Although a number of suspects were captured in this way, as time went on, the remaining fugitives became increasingly difficult to find. And Nato had no writ in Serbia. By the time I returned to Bosnia in 2003 I suspected that that the remaining fugitives were by this time in "deep cover", if they were in Bosnia at all, a suspicion reinforced by the 2005 arrest of Ante Gotovina, a Croat military commander, in Tenerife. So political pressure on Croatian and Serbian authorities became ever more important.

Sixteen years after British troops first deployed to Bosnia, and saw for themselves some of the appalling crimes committed in that terrible civil war, I am quietly satisfied that Radovan Karadzic will join those indicted war criminals fromall the parties to the conflict in facing justice at the International Tribunal.

Having seen for myself the terrible realities of ethnic cleansing and the way that war criminals acted as a malign blight on progress, this arrest should help to achieve closure on the region's decades of conflict, and the progress so necessary for Bosnia, Serbia and the region.

Brigadier Ben Barry is the author of A Cold War; Front-Line Operations in Bosnia 1995-96

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Client Relationship Assistant / Business Support

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you willing to give fantastic Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Assistant Document Controller

£11000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Greenwich based firm of Archite...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and Sam Seaborne (Rob Lowe) in The West Wing  

You don't need to read Aaron Sorkin's leaked emails to realise he's a sexist — just watch The West Wing

Tom Mendelsohn
A still from 'The Interview' starring Seth Rogan (right) and James Franco  

The Interview: If a film being cancelled is an outrage, what does that make the 200,000 North Koreans living in death camps?

Mike Harris
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum