Deconstructing Markale II
November 12, 2013

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson

At 11:10 AM on 28 August 1995 a 120 mm mortar shell landed near the Markale Market in Sarajevo. The explosion killed 38 people and wounded another 75. The Bosnian-Serbs were blamed for the attack, although they denied responsibility, and NATO air strikes were launched against Bosnian-Serb targets.

The Muslims allege that the Serbs shelled the Markale Market in order to terrorize the civilian population. The Serbs allege that the Muslims shelled the Market themselves in order to give NATO a pretext to launch its bombing campaign.

The UN Protection Force was dispatched to investigate the incident and they, together with the local police, initially concluded that the fatal round came in at a bearing of 170 degrees. However, in their final report they concluded “beyond reasonable doubt” that the mortar round was “fired from Bosnian Serb territory … from the Lukavica area at a range of between 3,000 and 5,000 meters … the bearing of this round was most likely from 220-240 degrees.”[1]

Two separate trial chambers at the ICTY also concluded “beyond reasonable doubt” that the shell was fired from Bosnian Serb territory – but not from Lukavica

According to the Dragomir Milosevic judgment, “The mortar shell that struck the street in the vicinity of the Markale Market was fired from the territory under the control of the SRK [Sarajevo-Romanija Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army] and it was fired by members of the SRK ... the Trial Chamber is persuaded by the evidence of the BiH police, the UNMOs and the first UNPROFOR investigation, which concluded that the direction of fire was 170 degrees, that is, Mount Trebevic, which was SRK-held territory.”[2]

The Perisic trial chamber came to the same conclusion: “The Trial Chamber finds beyond a reasonable doubt that on 28 August 1995 shortly after 11:00 hours, a 120mm mortar shell hit the entrance of the City Market on Mula-Mustafe Baseskije street killing 38 persons and injuring 75 persons. The Trial Chamber also finds that the mortar shell was fired from the VRS-held territory on the slopes of Mt. Trebevic.”[3]

The judges were persuaded by the evidence of the prosecution’s mortar expert, quartermaster sergeant Richard Higgs of England. Higgs identified four possible firing positions along the 170 degree bearing where the mortar could have been fired from: 900, 1600, 2400, and 3000 meters from the market depending on the propulsion charge used to fire the mortar. He concluded that 2400 meters was the most likely firing position.[4]

Anyone capable of reading a map can see that Lukavica and Mt. Trebevic are in two completely different directions. Lukavica is to the west and Mt. Trebevic is to the south of the Markale Market. UNPROFOR’s investigation concluded “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the shell was fired from Lukavica, but two ICTY trial chambers have found “beyond a reasonable doubt” that it was fired from Mt. Trebevic.

The only thing you can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt is that the ICTY’s findings and UNPROFOR’s investigation can’t both be right. Either UNPROFOR is wrong, the ICTY is wrong, or both of them are wrong.

Mapping the ICTY and UNPROFOR’s Claims

View Larger Map

This map shows the frontlines around Sarajevo, the firing positions alleged by the ICTY and UNPROFOR, the location of the UN Observation post, the findings from QMS Higgs report and a circle with a 1,050 meter radius centered on the Markale Market. In order to understand the rest of the article, I would urge the reader to take a minute and get acquainted with the map.

ICTY & UNPROFOR: Getting the Location of the Front Lines Wrong

In order to determine whether the shell was fired from the Serbian or the Muslim side of the confrontation line it is important to know the location of the front lines.

Even though the ICTY and UNPROFOR don’t agree on the direction that the shell came from they both agree that the confrontation line was 1,050 meters away from the Markale Market.[5]

In reality, the front lines were much farther away than the ICTY or UNPROFOR say they were. The Serb lines were about 1,700 meters away in the direction of Lukavica and about 1,900 meters away in the direction of Mt. Trebevic.

Moving the confrontation lines closer to the market than they actually were reduces the area from which the Muslims could have fired the shell and increases the area from which the Serbs could have fired it. Manipulating the location of the confrontation lines makes it appear more likely that the Serbs fired the shell and less likely that the Muslims did.

The blue circle on the map has a radius of 1,050 meters and is centered on the impact crater. As you can see the circle comes nowhere close to the front lines.

Hear No Evil

A lot has been made of the fact that one of the UN Military Observers assigned to the UN Observation Post didn’t hear any outgoing mortar fire.

According to the Dragomir Milosevic judgment, “The UNMOs Lt. Com. Thomas Knustad and Maj. Paul Conway were posted at OP-1 and they heard an impact and explosion after which they observed smoke coming from the area of Markale, about 2,000 metres from where they were. Lt. Com. Knustad was confident that the round, which resulted in the explosion that he heard and observed from his post, was not fired from within his area of responsibility. Lt. Com. Knustad estimated that the maximum distance at which a 120 mm mortar shell can be heard is at least four to five kilometres. He therefore excluded the possibility that the shell was fired from within ABiH-held territory because he would have heard it.”[6]

It is highly interesting that the trial chamber only heard testimony from Knustad, but not Conway. It is especially interesting because Conway was at the observation post and Knustad wasn’t when the incident occurred.

According to the Perisic judgment, “At about 9:00 hours on 28 August 1995, UNMOs Thom Knustad from Norway and Paul Conway from Ireland assumed their duties at OP-1. It was a bright, sunny morning and Knustad was sitting outside the house while Conway was at the observation post. At about 11:00 hours, Knustad saw a smokestack coming up from what he instantly identified as the Markale area and then heard the impact about five to six seconds later. Knustad joined Conway at the observation post, where they recorded the incident in the log book kept there and Conway immediately reported the incident to the UNMO headquarters at the PTT building.”[7]

Incredibly, nobody bothered put Paul Conway, the UNMO who was actually on duty at the Observation Post at that exact moment, on the witness stand until 2012 when Radovan Karadzic called him to testify as a defense witness.

Once Conway took the stand it was obvious why the Prosecutor hadn’t called him to testify. He said that he wasn’t sure if the explosions he heard were the sound of mortars impacting the Markale Market or if they were the sound of outgoing mortar fire. 

Conway testified that he heard the sound of “muffled explosions.”[8] In response to questioning from the Prosecutor he said, “I was always confused as had I heard outgoing or incoming. So I can't say that I only heard impact. I don't -- to be honest, I don't know what the explosions I heard were coming from.”[9]

The prosecutor put it to Conway that “the sound of 120-millimetre mortar firing is not - to use your word – ‘muffled’ if fired from a reasonably close distance to the listener” and he agreed saying, “I would expect it to make a very distinctive ‘vrmph’ and ‘trmph’ and you'd know that a heavy explosion had occurred.”[10]

The Prosecution’s Mortar Expert

As previously mentioned, the Prosecution enlisted a British mortar expert named Richard Higgs to determine the possible firing positions for the mortar that hit the Markale Market.

According to his report, “At an angle of [descent] approximately 70 degrees the different possible charges give ranges in the following areas;

“Charge 1 = 900m
“Charge 2 = 1600m
“Charge 3 = 2400m
“Charge 4 = 3000m

“When you take into account where these plot on a map, the fact that the UN observers did not hear the round being fired and the shallow crater the following assumptions can be made. At a range of only 900m would put the firing position inside the confrontation line and in direct line of sight and ear shot with the UN observation post which would only have been approximately only 1km away. At this distance they would have heard the round being fired.

“At a range of 1600m places the firing point is in the area of the confrontation line but still in easy ear shot of the UN observers. At a range of 2400m puts the firing position in the hills which is out of ear shot of the UN observers due to the lay of the land i.e. they would not have heard the round being fired due to the hills and valleys. This area is also one that is marked next to a gun position on the confrontation positional map.”[11]

Higgs further elaborated on his findings in court. He said, “If the round had been fired from 900 metres, this puts that location very close to an urban area where there would be lots of people who could have heard the firing, and there was no report that anyone heard that firing. Then when you come back to 1600 metres it places it right between the confrontation lines, which would be totally tactically sound (sic) for the position of a mortar and again very close in direct line of hearing from the UN observer, so you should have heard it. And then when you back to the area of 2400, you are now coming back to the more ideal position where a mortar would want to be, on the higher ground. It is far enough away from the confrontation line for tactical reasons for survivability. Plus, because it is up there in the hills, steep hills, it is shrouded from the UN observer by these hills, and so therefore, of course, that would reduce the chance of any sound being heard when fired.”[12]

The Prosecutor asked Higgs to explain why he eliminated the 1,600 meter firing position, and Higgs replied, “That position there would put this particular mortar either right on the front line or even in between the two front lines. For such a valuable asset, to place it in such a vulnerable position would not make tactical sense. The 120-millimetre mortar is a large piece of ordnance. Its ammunition is heavy. Ideally it is resupplied by a vehicle or many, many people; and to place it in that location just would not be sensical.”[13]

Higgs said that it was his firm conviction that the mortar had been fired from a distance of 2,400 meters, and when the Prosecutor asked him if the mortar crew could see the marketplace from 2,400 meters he said, “From that area, you cannot see the market itself because it is hidden by the taller buildings all around it. But you can identify the taller buildings very easily. For instance the cathedral is not far from that location and the other taller buildings. So you could use those as reference points to assist you, but you cannot see the marketplace itself.”[14]

There are a number of problems with Higgs’ evidence. The first problem is the fact that claims that the UNMOs at the observation post hadn’t heard any outgoing fire, when we know that UNMO Conway did hear something but he isn’t sure what he heard. But to be fair, Higgs testified before Conway did and so he couldn’t have possibly known what the UNMOs heard, even though he may have thought that he did based on the information provided to him by the prosecutor.

The next problem is that Higgs eliminates the 900 meter firing position as a possibility because he says nobody reported having heard a mortar being fired. If somebody did hear that, they likely would have reported it to the police in Sarajevo, and if the Muslims had done the shelling themselves to blame the Serbs and provoke a NATO intervention, would they have passed along those reports to Higgs or the ICTY? Probably not.

Moreover, the sound of mortars being fired was commonplace in Sarajevo during the war. A person in the city who heard the sound of mortar fire would probably have assumed that it was being fired at the Serbs and they wouldn’t have paid any mind to it. They wouldn’t necessarily have connected the sound with the attack on the Markale Market and reported it.

Another problem with Higgs’ evidence is that he eliminates the 1,600 meter firing position because he thinks it is right on top of the confrontation lines. Unlike the trial chamber itself, and unlike UNPROFOR, at least Higgs knows where the confrontation lines are at. Higgs’ problem was that he didn’t know where the market was at as evidenced by this map from his report.

The reason why Higgs thinks that 1,600 meters is right on top of the confrontation line is clear from the map in his report. His map makes it obvious that he started measuring from the wrong place. His map puts the location where the mortar impacted about 240 meters away from where it actually did. He put the crater closer to the confrontation line so that when he measured 1,600 meters he found himself right on top of the confrontation line instead of being more than 200 meters inside of Muslim territory like you would if you measured from the real impact site.

And to compound that error he miscalculated magnetic declination when he plotted the 170 degree line on the map. According to NOAA, the magnetic declination in Sarajevo was 2.22 degrees east on 28 August 1995, but Higgs has the line drawn as if magnetic declination were 3.25 degrees west and so the line he drew not only starts from the wrong location, but the bearing of his “170 degree” line is off by more than 5 degrees.    

According to Higgs, a Serbian mortar crew at 2,400 meters would have seen buildings in the city that would help them target the market, but he says the terrain would have blocked the sound of the outgoing mortar fire from reaching the UN Observation Post, and he notes in his report that there is a Serbian gun position on the map at about 2,400 meters distance from the market.

Contrary to what Higgs claims, there is perfect line of sight between the Serbian gun position at 2,400 meters and the UN Observation Post. There are no buildings and no terrain that would block or muffle the sound of outgoing mortar fire from reaching the Observation Post. The sound would have been clear as a bell. This diagram is an elevation profile showing the terrain between the Observation Post on the left and the 2,400 meter Serb gun position on the right.

At 3,000 meters there is no line of sight to the Observation post, but there is also no line of sight to the city. A mortar crew at 3,000 meters wouldn’t have been able to see the city in order to target the market. At 3,000 meters there is no line of sight to the Observation post, but there is also no line of sight to the city. A mortar crew at 3,000 meters wouldn’t have been able to see the city in order to target the market. The diagram below is an elevation profile showing the line of sight from each of the potential firing positions to the market.

When Higgs dismissed the 900 meter firing position in his report he said, “At a range of only 900m would put the firing position inside the confrontation line and in direct line of sight and ear shot with the UN observation post which would only have been approximately only 1km away. At this distance they would have heard the round being fired.”

As you can tell from the map, the observation post was half way up the hill. It was northeast of the 900 meter firing position and southeast of the 2400 meter firing position. The distance from the Observation Post to the 2400 meter firing position is practically the same as it is to the 900 meter firing. Higgs cannot credibly argue that outgoing mortar fire would have been audible to the Observation Post at 900 meters from the market, but not at 2400 meters.

The 1,600 meter firing position, which Higgs dismissed because he started measuring from the wrong place, would have put the mortar crew in Sarajevo’s Bostarici neighborhood, which was held by the Muslims.

From Bostarici a mortar crew would have had a good view of the city, and unlike the forested slopes of Mt. Trebevic, there are buildings in Bostarici that could deflect and muffle the sound. In fact, there is even a hill in the eastern part of Bostarici that would have prevented the observation post from having line of sight into certain parts of the neighborhood.

As Higgs noted in his testimony, “The 120-millimetre mortar is a large piece of ordnance. Its ammunition is heavy. Ideally it is resupplied by a vehicle or many, many people.” As one can see from Google’s satellite imagery, there aren’t a lot of roads on the top of Mt. Trebevic, but there are paved roads in Bostarici

It is important to be fair to QMS Higgs. His report does say, “It must be remembered that I only have the evidence of others to go by and must make my judgements based on the facts in front of me.” The inaccuracies in his report may be attributable to bad information he received from the Prosecution.

ABiH Use of Mortars in Sarajevo

It is noteworthy that the ABiH and the VRS both had 120 millimeter mortars in their arsenal and that the ABiH troops in Sarajevo were very skilled at firing their mortars and moving them quickly.  

Major Roy Thomas was the senior UNMO in Sarajevo from 14 October 1993 until the 14th of July, 1994. Major Thomas has 35 years of military experience with the Canadian Armed Forces. And prior to his arrival in Sarajevo, he had participated in five UN peacekeeping or military observer tours.

Major Thomas testified for the Prosecution in the Radovan Karadzic trial, and during his cross-examination, Maj. Thomas explained that “Some of the Bosnian [Muslim] tactics proved to be superior, and one of them, I think, deserves some look by military analysts, not necessarily in this court, is how they managed to use the mortars and get them moved so quickly and avoid any semblance of counter-battery fire on your [the Bosnian-Serbs’] part.”[15]

Major Thomas told the court, “I'll tell you the most novel use of transport was a mortar that was put in an unused railway car near the PTT building, was pushed out by people on foot. It fired and then was pushed back before the Serb artillery reacted.”[16]

The ABiH mortar crews were also skilled at concealing their activities from the UNMOs. Maj. Thomas told the court that UNMOs in Sarajevo “spent a lot of time trying to catch them moving mortars into the hospital grounds and then firing and then moving, but we were never able to pick them up doing it. But we know they did it.”[17]

Maj. Thomas wasn’t the only UN official to testify about the ABiH’s use of mortars in Sarajevo either. A senior French military official who had been deployed with the UN in Sarajevo also testified for the prosecution under the pseudonym of KDZ-185.

Witness KDZ-185 told the court: “I underline that the mortar units, especially with the Bosnians, had this characteristic, that they would move them very often. They had no fixed position, which accounts for the fact that unlike the Serb artillery positions, we had not ascertained what the permanent locations were of the Bosnian mortar units because such did not exist. They would move them frequently so as to avoid being located and have a counter-battery fire fired on them.”[18]

It wasn’t just UN Personnel who saw the ABiH moving their mortars around the city either. Martin Bell was a journalist who covered the war for the BBC, and he testified in the Karadzic trial that he saw them firing from mortars mounted on vehicles. Karadzic asked him: “Do you recall that there were mortars mounted on vehicles, and they moved around the city and opened fire from various locations?” And Bell responded, “Yes, Dr. Karadzic, I saw that for myself.”[19]

In light of the fact that the Bosnian-Muslims were adept at moving their mortars quickly and firing them without being detected by the UN it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a Bosnian-Muslim mortar crew could have opened fire on the market from a location in Bostarici, out of sight of the UN Observation Post, and gotten away without being detected.

Bostarici, Caco, and the 10th Mountain Brigade

During the first part of the war, Bostarici was controlled by the 10th Mountain Brigade commanded by a notorious Muslim warlord named Musan Topalovic -- better known as “Caco” (pronounced ZA-tso).[20]

David Harland was the head of UN civil affairs in Bosnia during the war. According to his testimony at the ICTY Caco was “a dangerous man” he said that “his whole unit was engaged in violence” and that “Caco, of course, had not only been killing Serbs; he had been killing Muslims as well. And I think, in fact, the action which led to his own death was a last spasm of violence in which he had killed a number of Muslims.”[21]

General Vahid Karavelic of the ABiH testified in the Delic trial that they were afraid that outlaw units like Caco’s 10th Mountain Brigade would “attack us from the back.”[22]  Indeed, the 10th Mountain Brigade would ambush other units of the ABiH and steal their equipment.[23]

In late 1993 the Bosnian authorities killed Caco, disbanded the 10th Mountain Brigade, and put Bostarici under the control of the 115th Brigade, but Caco’s men remained.

When Caco was killed the New York Times reported that “senior police officials said killing Mr. Topalovic and arresting Mr. Delalic, the other gang leader, would only dent the power of the gangs.

“’We got the big Caco,’ a senior officer said, using the dead gang leader's nickname. ‘But there are lot of little Cacos waiting to take his place, and as long as we are in this situation, the criminals will always be on top.’”[24]

Regardless of their behavior, Caco’s men were seen as valuable fighters by the Bosnian Government. The Bosnian-Muslim authorities were even willing to look the other way when Caco attacked their own police.

According to one report in the New York Times, “A militia group led by a 29-year-old former nightclub singer known as Caco attacked three police stations, seizing 30 officers and taking them off to dig trenches at the front-line positions held by Caco's men on Trebevic mountain ... ‘This is being handled very gently because these guys are very good on the front line,’ said Ejup Ganic, a vice president, referring to Caco's men. His view, as well as being expedient, reflected a widely held opinion: that militia leaders like Caco, even if they behave like renegades, have permitted the city to resist the Serbs.”[25]

When the Bosnian-Muslims killed Caco, the New York Times reported that “The crimes that Mr. Topalovic and his followers are said to have committed made the Government's failure to take action sooner all the more striking. Mr. Alispahic, the Interior Minister, said the gang leader's activities included seizing people from their homes and killing them; seizing women at gunpoint to be raped; kidnapping wealthy people in Sarajevo and holding them for ransom payments of as much as 100,000 German marks, about $60,000; blackmail of other well-to-do people, also for large sums, and grabbing men off the streets and forcing them to dig trenches at the front.” The report also noted that “Mr. Topalovic broke into a funeral home used for many of the victims of the siege and robbed its owner of 400,000 marks, about $240,000.”[26]

Just because Caco was killed it didn’t mean that his men disappeared. After he was killed, the Agence France Presse wire service reported that “a number of Caco supporters were still believed to be hold up in houses close to his former command post.”[27]

According to press reports, Caco had some 2,800 men under his command.[28] In 1996 thousands of his men turned out for his funeral. Agence France Presse reported that “In a remarkable show of solidarity, thousands of men, many of them former comrades in arms, flooded the narrow streets of the old Turkish district of Sarajevo to pay their last respects to Caco on Saturday.

Caco's body was passed from hand to hand in traditional fashion all the way from the mosque to the Kovaci cemetery, a distance of one kilometer.”[29]

The Kovaci cemetery where Caco is buried, otherwise known as “Martyrs’ Memorial Cemetery,” is the Bosnian-Muslim equivalent of the Arlington National Cemetery. It is the cemetery where they bury their most honored veterans.

The fact that Caco was killed in the autumn of 1993, doesn’t mean that some of his men weren’t still lingering around Bostarici in the summer of 1995 when the Markale Market was hit. The fact that they were still around for his funeral in 1996 is a good indicator that they were there in 1995 too.

This was a depraved group of criminals and thugs who raped, robbed, kidnapped, and murdered Serbs and Muslims alike. One cannot lightly dismiss the possibility that they may have been the ones who shelled the Markale Market especially when the heading that the shell came from points to an area where they were known to be active.

As the ballistics show, the Bosnian-Muslims had the means and the opportunity to shell the Markale Market, and they had a motive.

The motive was to incite international outrage against the Serbs, who would be seen as responsible. The logical assumption when a shell is fired into Sarajevo is that it must be the Serbs surrounding the city who did it. By shelling the Markale Market, the Muslims could exploit the carnage to motivate NATO retaliation against the Serbs.

If the Bosnian-Government wanted “dirty work” to be done, then Caco’s men would have been the logical people to turn to. They were immoral and unscrupulous cut-throats who could have easily been bribed to do anything.

In spite of the ICTY and UNPROFOR’s findings, there is ample room for reasonable doubt to make a definitive conclusion about who fired that shell.

[1] D. Milosevic Exhibit P00357

[2] D. Milosevic judgment, paras 724, 719

[3] M. Perisic Judgment, para. 467

[4] Ibid.

[5] D. Milosevic Ex. P00357, Pg. 21; M. Perisic Judgment para 448; D. Milosevic Judgment para 693

[6] D. Milosevic Judgment para 690

[7] M. Perisic Judgment para 443

[8] R. Karadzic Exhibit D2329

[9] R. Karadzic Transcript, 17 October 2012; pg. 29013

[10] Ibid., pg. 29011

[11] R. Higgs Expert Report; D. Milosevic Exhibit P588.

[12] D. Milosevic Transcript, 24 April 2007; pg. 5026-5027

[13] Ibid., Pg. 5028

[14] Ibid., Pg. 5029

[15] R. Karadzic Transcript, 15 September 2010, pg. 6831

[16] Ibid., Ibid., pg. 6841

[17] Ibid., Ibid., pg. 6842

[18] R. Karadzic Transcript, 29 June 2010, pg. 4283

[19] R. Karadzic Transcript, 15 December 2010, pg. 9872

[20] Testimony of Asim Dzambasovic, Testimony of Asim Dzambasovic, R. Karadzic Transcript, 22 June 2011, pg. 15224

[21] D. Milosevic Transcript, 16 January 2007, p. 445-446

[22] R. Delic Transcript, 26 March 2008, pg. 7884

[23] R. Delic Exhibit 00392e

[24] The New York Times, "New Horror for Sarajevo: Muslims Killing Muslims", October 31, 1993

[25] The New York Times, "Renegades Help Bosnia By Helping Themselves", July 5, 1993

[26] The New York Times, "New Horror for Sarajevo: Muslims Killing Muslims", October 31, 1993

[27] Agence France Presse, "Serbs shell Sarajevo district controlled by renegade brigade", October 28, 1993

[28] Press Association, "Sarajevo Streets Ruled By Rogue Commander," June 3, 1993

[29] Agence France Presse, "Sarajevo re-buries a war legend," November 02, 1996 Presse, November 02, 1996 02:18 GMT



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