The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central Bosnia: A Military History, 1992-1994

By Charles R. Shrader | Go to book overview

Prologue

In October, 1992, Jajce, an important town northwest of Travnik on the main road to Banja Luka, had been under siege by the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) for nearly five months. A mixed garrison of Croatian Defense Council and Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina soldiers defended the town and its two important power stations. They were supported from Travnik over a tenuous, narrow, twenty-five-mile-long corridor through Serb-held territory. Reinforcements, food, ammunition, and other vital supplies were brought forward by truck, usually at night. Constantly under fire, the nightly convoys that snaked from Travnik along the primitive road through rough mountain terrain barely sufficed to keep Jajce’s beleaguered garrison and civilian population alive. On October 27, 1992, the BSA’s I Krajina Corps acted to end the siege of Jajce with an all-out attack preceded by several air strikes. The following day, Jajce’s HVO defenders evacuated their sick and wounded along with the Croat civilian residents before abandoning the town that evening. The Muslim soldiers and civilians soon followed when, on October 29, the BSA entered the town and began a program of “ethnic cleansing” that resulted in what has been called “the largest and most wretched single exodus” of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.1

For many of the thirty thousand refugees who fled over the mountains or down the by-then notorious “Vietnam Road” toward the relative safety of Travnik, it was not the first time they had been forced to flee before the BSA. Many had fled earlier to Jajce from Banja Luka, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kotor Varos, and other towns and villages in the Bosanska-Krajina region. For the most part, the HVO soldiers and Croat refugees who fled Jajce filtered down into the relative safety of Herzegovina or even into Croatia itself. The twenty thousand or so Muslim refugees, on the other hand, had no place else to go and therefore remained in Travnik, Novi Travnik, Vitez, Busovaca, or villages near Bila and Zenica. Amidst mutual accusations of having abandoned the defense of the city, both the HVO and the ABiH were forced to repair the substantial military damage suffered while their respective civilian authorities were faced with the problems caused by a major influx of refugees into the central Bosnia area.

Therein lay the seeds of the coming conflict. The Muslim refugees from Jajce posed both a problem and an opportunity for Alija Izetbegovic’s government. The problem was where to relocate them. The opportunity was a military one: the large number of military age males, well motivated for

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