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EYE-WITNESS REPORT OF THE TUZLA MASSACRE

Thursday evening, May 25th, 8.30 p.m. The Day of Youth in former Yugoslavia. Everything has been quiet for more than a week in Tuzla. The weather is perfect: a late spring day, with lots of sun and a nice temperature. A perfect day for a stroll in the old centre of town. Lots of young people meet in this centre: they don't have the money nor the opportunities to do something else. Discotheques are closed, other facilities not available. As allways, Kapija is the centre of activity. This old square, that used to be the eastern entrance of Tuzla (how cynical), is filled with people, most of them between 18 and 25 years old. There is no indication whatsoever that a disaster is about to happen. Of course, you can hear the shelling in the distance (Tuzla Airport was hit by 13 grenades), but that is nothing unusual anymore.

Six persons are having Bosnian lessons in the HCA-office, only twenty meters away from Kapija: we want to learn something about Bosnia. Around 9 p.m., there is a big bang. Everybody throws himself at the floor. Panic. Only seconds later, you can hear the screaming, the moaning. People are coming into the office, most of them hysterical. A girl is brought in: she is wounded at her left leg. Fortunately, it is not a severe injury. She's been lucky. But a lot of others were not. Slowly, information is dripping in. A grenade fell in the middle of Kapija. A grenade, fired by the Bosnian Serbs on Mount Majevica, some twenty kilometres east of Tuzla. Don't let anybody tell you something else. Of course, there will be rumours again from the Bosnian Serbs, saying that the Bosnian Muslims did it themselves. Don't believe it: the shellings is the reaction of the Bosnian Serbs to the bombing of Pale by NATO-forces.

A long time it is uncertain how many people have been killed or injured. Ten, maybe even twenty people are killed, and a lot more wounded. But after one and a half hour, when I have gathered enough courage to take a look outside, I can easily see that these are low estimates. Kapija is covered with white sheets, stained with blood, which are used to cover the dead. I count at least forty of them.

I go home, there is nothing I can do. I watch the special programme from TV Tuzla about the shelling. Even my latest estimates are too low. The number of killed people is rising quickly: 45, 50, 53, 60. The shots are awful. Pieces of what once used to be human beings are strewn across Kapija. In the hospital, people are operated upon in corridors, because there is not enough space in the Operation-rooms.

Hundreds of people come to the hospital, hoping to find their children, friends, relatives among the wounded. A lot of them find them among the dead. Fortunately, there are also long cues of people who want to donate blood, to help the wounded.

In the morning, the pain is even worse than in the evening. Slowly realisation comes: a huge part of Tuzla's future, of Bosnia's future, has been killed. TV Tuzla reports 65 deaths, and over a hundred wounded. Almost all of them are between 18 and 25. The city is picking up the pieces. At 8.30 a.m., there is another shelling at Tuzla, but people hardly care: they are still paralysed by yesterday's events. The atmosphere in Tuzla is one of dejection. But even more so, of helplessness. The international community is obviously neither able nor willing to protect Bosnian civilians. The UN-declared "Safe Areas" are not safe at all. All of them (Sarajevo, Bihac, Zepa, Srebrenica, Gorazde and Tuzla) have witnessed shelling last night, as they have as long as they exist. But the Bosnian Muslims don't have the chance to defend themselves either: the arms-embargo prevents them from buying the weapons to defend themselves. I am not an expert on international law, but I would say that this is against the UN-Charter. Article 51 of the Charter guarantees every sovereign nation the right of self-defence. And Bosnia-Hercegovina is widely recognised as being a sovereign, independent state.

I am not saying that I prefer lifting of the arms-embargo. But the only language that Karadzic and his Bosnian Serbs seem to understand is the language of force. Therefor, the international community should finally take a firm stand. And this means attacking the arms depots of the Bosnian Serbs, not only around Sarajevo, but around all "Safe Areas". Even though there might be repercussions on UNPROFOR-troops or civilian targets, it has turned out to be the only way. And if the international community is not willing or able to do this, the only solution is lifting the arms embargo. This would at least give the Bos- nian Muslims a fair chance to defend themselves, and maybe it will convince the Bosnian Serbs that they have to find a dip- lomatic solution. The Bosnian Muslims have more manpower, and if they have the appropriate weapons, they might be able to deter the Bosnian Serbs. The Bosnian Muslims, like most of the other Bosnians, don't want this war. They would like to live again like they have done for centuries: Muslims, Croats and Serbs together, as neighbours, as colleagues, as friends.

The last figures show that there are 68 people killed: a child of two and a half, two persons of 45, and the rest between 18 and 25. Apart from that, there are also 236 people injured. Twenty-nine of them are still in a critical condition. Among the casualties and the wounded of this savage, terrorist attack, all three nations are represented.

Andre Lommenbr> International Liaison Officer HCA Tuzla

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Note for editors: Although I am working for the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly in Tuzla, this is a personal, and not necessarily HCA's point of view.

For further information, you can reach me at the following
numbers:
Office: + 385 75 231480 (tel.)
                 821632 (fax)
Home:            238749 (tel)
E-mail: HCA_TUZLA@ZAMIR-TZ.ZTN.APC.ORG

The Municipality can be reached at the following numbers:
00 387 75 221119 (tel)
           32123 (tel)
          237095 (tel)
          821147 (fax)
E-MAIL: MAYOR_TZ@ZAMIR-TZ.ZTN.APC.ORG
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