The Tunnel
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                       28 Jan 2008



On a cold and rainy afternoon near Sarajevo, and, inside a building still displaying the scars of a recent war, a father and his son have a story to tell.  They lived here during that war.  The father built this home and his son was born here.

 In April 1992, the long running conflict between the Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croats, and the Bosnian Muslims erupted into a brutal war.  The Serbs wanted to rid the country of Muslims and Catholics.  Sarajevo became a killing field as the Serbs, located in the surrounding mountains, laid siege on the city.  Artillery shells and sniper fire continued to rain down upon the city for three years.  During this time, over 10,000 civilians were murdered and most of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.


As the siege stretched from weeks to months, survival was becoming desperate.  Food was running low and the Bosnian Army had very little equipment or ammunition.  There was no way to get supplies to the people since the Serbs controlled all of the high ground surrounding the city.  In August of 1992, a 7500 man United Nations force was sent in to provide humanitarian relief for the entrapped residents of Sarajevo.  This force proved to be impotent and, even an impediment, to the Bosnians as they attempted to bring much needed supplies to our city.  The corridor to the south opened up to the rest of Bosnia and supplies.  However, this route was blocked since the Serbs controlled the airport and would not allow food supplies into the city unless they received an equal amount.  Attempts by the Bosnians to cross the airport runway were stopped by both the Serbs and the UN force.

 The most immediate problem was military supplies for the Bosnians trapped in the city.  The Serbs had a significant stockpile of tanks, cannons, guns, and ammunition.  The Bosnians had very little.  The UN enforced an embargo for war material to the Balkans.  In effect, this prevented the Bosnians from defending themselves against a ruthless and already well-equipped Serbian Army.

 The situation required immediate action.  A tunnel would be dug under the airport runway.  My father was an officer in the Bosnian army and offered our home as the starting point on the Bosnia side.  Another home near the runway on the Sarajevo side was secured and the tunnel was begun.  They would dig from both ends and hopefully meet in the middle.    This clandestine effort must be hidden from both the UN and the Serbs.

 150 men dug day and night, all by hand; picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows were their tools.  They worked in very adverse conditions.   The lighting was poor and sometimes water was knee deep in the tunnel.  Timbers for the tunnel on the Bosnia side were obtained from the forest.  Wood was not available on the Sarajevo side; instead, steel beams salvaged from bombed out buildings were used.  The tunnel was 18 feet under the runway, a little over three feet wide and only five feet high.  The total length was about one half mile.

 After four months and four days of this hard and dangerous work, the two sides met in the middle under the airport runway.  Operation of the tunnel began immediately!

 In the first year of operation, the tunnel was used primarily by the Bosnian Army to bring in much needed military supplies.  Initially these supplies were carried on the backs of the soldiers.  Soon, however, rails made from angle iron were installed.  Small carts capable of hauling about 700 pounds each were used to run on these rails.

 My father was responsible for getting the many tons of weapons and ammunition to the tunnel entrance. This material was hauled down the mountainside on a narrow, winding road.  To avoid detection and shelling by the Serbian Army, it was necessary that this be done at night and without headlights.

 As time progressed, a telephone cable, an oil pipeline, and a 19-megawatt electric power cable were installed to supply the city.   By the end of the first year of operation, civilian use began and approximately 3,000 people per day were able to use the tunnel. 

 The Serbs knew of the tunnel and of its operation.  In an effort to eliminate this lifeline, they destroyed the nearby village. Despite major efforts to prevent its use, the tunnel continued to operate for the duration of the siege.  To confuse the enemy as to where the entrances were actually located, the Bosnian Army constructed several diversion tunnels and passageways. 

 The siege was finally broken in 1995, not by the UN efforts, but by NATO and the ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States.  After the ceasefire, NATO became the peacekeeping force with 60,000 troops stationed in the city and elsewhere in Bosnia.


Today, much of the city has been rebuilt with funds from international donors.  The European Union is now responsible for maintaining peace but the conflict remains.  Reminders of the war of hate, the war of ethnic cleansing, are all around.  The bombed out buildings, the mine fields and, yes, the graveyards -- some stretching as far as the eye can see, while others are just a small patch of ground on a hillside in the mountains.

 After the cease-fire, the tunnel was no longer needed and has long since caved in.  These days, the Orthodox Serbs, the Catholic Croatians, and the Bosnian Muslims move freely about the city.  Someday soon the rebuilding of the city will be finished.  The scars of war and of the tunnel that saved countless lives will be only a memory; a memory of a time when ethnic hatred dominated the lives of this land. 


Croatians            (crow A tians)

Croats             (crow ats)

Sarajevo             (sara YAY voe)


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