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Canada And The Srebrenica Incident

An unidentified Canadian NATO-led peacekeeper watches a group of Bosnian Croats prior to a rally in the central Bosnian town of Busovaca, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Sarajevo, Monday, April 9, 2001. (AP PHOTO/SAVA RADOVANOVIC) Via

To be clear, we do not in any way discredit any military force, soldiers or people.  We're just posting an article that we feel is shedding some light on Canada and the Srebrenica incident. As in, we're just writing about how Canada could have done a little more to prevent this issue. We also spoke to some veterans of the conflict who also feel the same way and give some insight as to why the incident occurred the way it did.

Canada was taking part in a peacekeeping operation run by the United Nations in Yugoslavia. This is often known as the Bosnian War, which took part between Apr 6, 1992 – Dec 14, 1995. Certain parts of the mission have made some people feel really bad about leaving the town of Srebrenica, formerly a part of Yugoslavia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, now a part of Republika Srpska, Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Battlefield: The war crimes for which Mladic has been found guilty were carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and includes the three-year siege of Sarajevo and the massacre in Srebrenica Via

While on the mission Canadian soldiers fond themselves under fire and in the middle of a brutal war that would soon take the lives of around 140,000 people and would displace millions. The war also left scars on peacekeepers. Some Canadian soldiers as well as other participating members found themselves emotionally damaged and dealing with PTSD. 

The war also brought on the worst of human beings. There were mass murders, rapes, and even reported enslavement. The mass murders were everything from attempting to wipe out entire peoples for different beliefs all the way to executing large numbers of people and burying the bodies in lime so the smell wouldn't be as bad.

What's the Srebrenica incident? 

31 May 1993: Heavily armed Bosnian Serb soldiers patrol through a field near the town of Srebrenica Via IBTimes UK

The incident was essentially where 8000 Muslims Bosniaks who were victims of the massacre. This mass murder was mainly perpetrated by units of the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) under the command of Ratko Mladić. The incident happened on July 11-22 1995. Though the final siege of Srebrenica occurred on July 11, 1995.

The town was actually under protection from the Dutch military forces. They obviously, did not manage to hold the enclave correctly and the lack of defense resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. Although, the Dutch forces may have not been prepared for the intensity of the attacks on the enclave on the regular. 

28 February 1994: Dutch soldiers accompany a UN convoy of armored vehicles on their way to Lukavac and Srebrenica Via IBTimes UK

I spoke to Carlos Steiner, a veteran who served in Bosnia with the Canadian Forces. Carlos explained to me what he and his company was tasked with doing in the region. He also mentioned how the murders happened within the city. 

Carlos said:  "it was very tense all of the time, specifically where our company operated in Visoko and Srebrenica. Our mandate was convoy and VIP escort duty along with providing security for UNPROFOR combat engineers while in Visoko and then it was to secure and disarm the Srebrenica enclave. I was a Section Second in Command of a Mechanized Infantry Platoon and a Section Commander of a Mechanized Infantry Reconnaissance Platoon."

"We were ordered to stand down whenever confronted by Serbian Forces and I do believe that it had to do with the government at the time, Mulroney and Chretien who threw Kim Campbell under the bus in 1993. One of our colleagues was killed by a Serbian combatant in the first direct fire incident involving the death of a Canadian soldier since the Korean war and it was covered up, Campbell was made Prime Minister." He continued.

24 July 1996: The bodies of Muslims killed during the exodus from Srebrenica are seen in a grave near the eastern Bosnian village of Nova Kasaba Via IBTimes UK

When asked about how the murders in Srebrenica happened, Carlos mentioned this: "it would consist of mass execution-style killing of civilians, mostly men, and boys. Shelling into hills as villagers escaped, driving truckloads of men to warehouses packing them inside and grenading them, rape, forcing family members to kill their own children, exhuming bodies from mass graves, dismembering them and moving them to secondary mass graves, etc."

Carlos went on to say that he knows of these murders based on ICTY (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia) findings.

18 September 1996: Forensic experts investigate bodies, many of them blindfolded and with their hands tied around their backs, in a mass grave outside the village of Pilica Via IBTimes UK

The Canadian Forces actually held the enclave before it was handed off to Dutch forces. They are often described as doing a good job at holding the enclave back from the Serbian forces. In fact, when I spoke to a veteran from the Canadian Forces who served in the conflict, he mentioned how one soldier was shot at by the Serbian forces and had become aggravated to the point of emptying an entire 50. Caliber Browning Machine Gun box of ammo into a Serbian forces bunker. The bunker was even described as completely destroyed alongside anything that was inside of it at the time. This would be an example of how different the Dutch and Canadians were, so naturally, when a force that is not used to dealing with experienced forces that tend to push things to the limit, they are more likely to lose a position. 

Why is Srebrenica not talked about as much?

Srebrenica was a terrible incident that hasn't gotten as much attention as other mass murders but why not. One reason could be that there is the not in my backyard effect (NIMBY). However, instead of it being about development, it is about a massacre. This happens when someone hears about something but does not seem to care because it does not directly affect them in a personal manner. Other reasons could be that the entire incident is not talked about as much as say, a terrorist attack or bombings, and other large-scale incidents that people tend to remember. 

A Bosnian Muslim woman walks past tombstones at the Potocari Memorial Cemetery near Srebrenica (Getty/Andrej Isakovic) Vi IBTimes UK

The lack of open talking about this incident is clear evidence to show that no one seems to want responsibility for the incident. This is why the entire massacre comes off as being swept under the rug by governments and people. This is dangerous because it shows that no one really wants to stand up and look at why things went wrong, so there is no improvement to prevent this from happening again. That's why it's often better to look at something and figure out why it did not work, then never doing that again, so the issue wouldn't result in more deaths but that does not seem to be happening here. 

Another reason why it might not be talked about as much is that Russia vetoed a UN resolution declaring the Srebrenica massacre a genocide. On top of that, this is a huge political piece for Serbia if they would like to join the EU. It has even been said that there are alleged Srebrenica war criminals living in Canada.

The refugees.

Dutch UN peacekeepers on top of an armored personnel carrier as Muslim refugees from Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, gather in the nearby village of Potocari in July 1995. File photograph: AP

Refugees are something that was part of the entire Srebrenica incident and the Bosnian war as a whole. These people were among the few to go through the lengthy process of providing information, proof and being involved in interviews to prove who they were. This meant that they had to relive the trauma that they experienced during the Bosnian war. Every bit of trauma had to be gone over to ensure everything was in order and that these refugees, were in fact, refugees. 

The total amount of people who were displaced will never be known since some of them died on their journeys. The figure is more than 2,000,000 people who were displaced during the Bosnian War. 

The effects faced by the refugees are likely to still be going on even today. This could be the case since people cannot lose mental scars, such as being put in some of the concentration camps that had been going on during the war or witnessing a murder, etc. 

By Michael Normandin