A shell crashed into a crowd near the central marketplace in Sarajevo Monday, spewing shrapnel that killed at least 34 people and wounded dozens. The deadly attack jeopardized a new round of peace talks.
Pandemonium broke out and pools of blood were everywhere. Some people's legs and arms were blown off.Bosnian television showed at least 40 people lying in the marketplace, many dead. One old man's head was split open, his motorcycle still between his legs. Many of the dead were children, women or old people.
The Bosnian army said Monday's carnage was caused by a 120-mm mortar shell fired from Serb positions south of Sarajevo. The Serbs denied the shell was theirs and accused the Muslim-led government army of firing on its own people to scuttle peace talks.
The attack came just as a U.S. negotiating team, led by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, arrived Monday in Paris for talks aimed at reactivating the peace process.
"We want to first of all make clear that this will not stop the peace process," Holbrooke said after the attack. "It will only make us redouble our efforts."
The Bosnian government, however, suggested it might suspend meetings with the Americans until it received assurance the Serbs would be targeted by retaliatory NATO airstrikes.
The United Nations said air raids remained a possibility - but not before it established who fired the shell, one of five to hit the downtown area. U.N. officials said their tracking radar did not trace the path of the shell so they could not immediately comment on its origin.
Sixty-eight people were killed on Feb. 5, 1994, when a shell landed less than 100 yards from where Monday's landed. That was the highest number of civilian deaths in Sarajevo on any one day in 40 months of war. The United Nations never publicly confirmed who fired that shell, either. At Kosevo, the main hospital, the rush of victims Monday was so overwhelming that many people were forced to wait outside. Inside, the more seriously wounded were crowded in halls and patients'rooms.
Nihada Hadziahmic was hit by shrapnel in both legs.
"I could just hear screaming," she said, describing the first moments after the shell landed. She said she felt something cut into her legs and then hobbled into a doorway before being rushed to the hospital.
The Bosnian Health Ministry said 34 people died and state radio said 84 were wounded. Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said the death toll would likely rise to about 40.
Gatherings had been prohibited at the marketplace in an attempt to prevent a repetition of last year's bloodbath, and a policeman said he had tried to disperse the teeming crowd minutes before the shell hit.
But Monday was the first sunny day after several rainy ones, and streets have been relatively busy in the past few weeks because the shelling had subsided.
Hours after the five shells landed, police and medical teams continued to pull out victims from destroyed buildings, the Interior Ministry said.
Bosnian Serb radio said retaliatory mortar fire from government positions slammed into the Serb-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza, hitting a wedding procession and wounding about 50 people, several seriously. There was no way to immediately verify the claims.
The 1994 attack led to a NATO ultimatum to the Serbs to pull back their heavy weapons from the immediate vicinity of the Bosnian capital or face airstrikes.
Both the Serb and Muslim forces respected the 121/2-mile heavy weapons "exclusion zone" for about a year, then began violating it. The United Nations gave up trying to enforce it in May and requested NATO airstrikes on the Serbs.
A U.S. negotiating team, led by Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, arrived in Paris Monday to reopen talks with envoys of other countries involved in the peace process and President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia.
But a furious Silajdzic said his side would suggest "a suspension of the peace process" - apparently until the Bosnians got a commitment that NATO would attack the Serbs in retaliation.
"We would like to know what the role of NATO is in all of this," he said. "Are they going to stand by while we are being killed and massacred? . . . Is Sarajevo a safe zone or a killing ghetto?"
NATO, in tandem with the United Nations, has promised more vigorous air strikes for all U.N. "safe areas," including Sarajevo, following brutal Serb conquests of two other U.N.-protected zones, Srebrenica and Zepa.