THE LATEST PROGRAMME
Thursday 5 December 2002, 20.02-20.30
Gorazde: The Peacekeepers' Tale is not about the diplomatic battles that went on at the UN and elsewhere, it's about the soldiers themselves.
Listen to the programme
Seven years ago, the Serbs attacked the UN 'safe area' of Gorazde in Bosnia, taking British Army UN Peacekeepers hostage and isolating scores of others. Unable to protect its troops, Whitehall panicked, fearing huge casualties. But against overwhelming odds, they survived. This is their remarkable, untold story. The programme's presented by Corporal Dave Vaatsra, a former Corporal in the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
British Saxon APC armoured car, part of UN Peace Keeping forces in Bosnia.
"Gorazde: The Peacekeepers' Tale" is not about the diplomatic battles that went on at the UN and elsewhere, it's about the soldiers themselves. The men on the ground who had to every day interpret and apply a hazy, unclear mandate. We hear from the soldiers from the three regiments who served there in succession: the Duke of Wellington Regmt, the RGBW's - the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regmt, and the Royal Welch Fusiliers. In May 1995 33 men of the Fusiliers were held hostage by the Serbs.
A bloody war had raged in Bosnia since 1992, but by 1995 the Bosnian Serb superiority in the conflict was under threat. The balance of power was shifting in favour of the Croatian and Muslim forces. This placed the Serbs under pressure to consolidate their gains in eastern Bosnia, where Gorazde lies, and to seek an end to the war. Meanwhile, however, the US Clinton administration, NATO, the UN, and the EU in Brussels,not to mention the various European governments were struggling to rein in the Serb President Milosevich, and the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadjic.
UN Peace Keeper in Bosnia.
In 1994, John Major's government and Whitehall defence chiefs had sent hundreds of British peacekeepers to the UN-declared 'safe area' of Gorazde. The UN had established six of these areas in Bosnia in 1993, but the Security Council resolutions 819, 824 and 836, which governed them, were ambiguous. The peacekeepers were to 'deter' attacks on the town (the UN avoided the more explicit terms 'defend' or 'protect'), and the use of force was authorised but linked to 'self-defence'. As we hear, British officers and their troops had to translate this unclear language into decisive action on the ground, in the face of Serb hostilities, their front line just 3km outside Gorazde.
As it happened the outcome at Gorazde was a relative success story. In contrast to the terrible fate that befell Srebrenica and Zepa, the other Bosnian 'safe areas', the Bosnian army ultimately held the town. And crucially, Gorazde proved a turning point from the point of view of UN peacekeeping: it provides a rare and generally neglected example of effective, robust peacekeeping.
This is the larger picture, the diplomatic and military background to this compelling documentary. This was the larger drama the soldiers found themselves unwitting players in.
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