Remembering Sarajevo: A Reunion of Journalists 20 Years Later

PHOTO: A Bosnian special forces soldier returns fire in downtown Sarajevo as he and civilians come under fire from Serbian snipers April 6, 1992. The Serb extremists were shooting from the roof of a hotel at a peace demonstration of some of 30,000 people
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The flight into Sarajevo this time was so different from the first nearly 20 years ago. From the window of the Airbus I can see the foothills of Mt. Igman and across the plain the mountain peaks where the Serbs forces had placed their big guns that were to inflict so much damage on this city.

On my first flight I had sat huddled in the back of a French C130 wearing my flak jacket and an ill fitting helmet. My overstuffed duffle bag that I squeezed under my legs was full of medical gear and food supplies for my colleagues. As we were taxing and the crew opened the back door to a blast of frigid air snipers opened fired on the plane. The pilot decided he would not stop to off-load the needed supplies, but he slowed enough for us to jump and run for the cover of the makeshift U.N. terminal. What was I doing here, I remember thinking.

I was a green producer for ABC News. I had covered the military intervention in Somalia, but this was my first civil war with constant daily battles. Over the next 44 months I would come often to Sarajevo, and over the next 20 years I would cover many, many more wars. But what I saw and learned in the Bosnia war is a big part of who I am professionally. I "earned my wings" there, along with many young colleagues from around world who covered the most deadly conflict in Europe since World War II.

So last year when an assorted bunch of those journalists decided to hold an anniversary reunion, I knew I had to go and see how the city had changed; to reconnect with old friends; and to try and find those people we had reported on during the siege.

On April 5, 1992, as tens of thousands gathered in the center of the city to protest what would be the break from Yugoslavia, snipers fired into the crowd killing randomly. Within days the city would split into ethnic neighborhoods. There were a mass exodus of Croats, Serbs and Muslims from their mixed neighborhoods into enclaves.

The country would fracture too. The front lines were formed and were numerous. By the time the conflict ended nearly 250,000 would die in Bosnia and millions were displaced.

The journalism group is meeting at the Holiday Inn of course. Originally built to accommodate Olympic visitors, the hotel would become a journalist hub during the war. Tracer fire often bounced around the atrium lobby. The hotel is situated just across from where the Serb snipers had their positions. There was daily, deadly running of the gauntlet to and from the hotel.

Today we are joking whether we should still walk up the emergency stairs or whether to ask the hotel to turn off the power for our reunion to recreate the atmosphere of those days. I thought about bringing a jar of mustard and Tabasco sauce, like the ones stashed in my duffle bag that first day. They were an important staple to supplement to the dreary fare that the formally attired hotel waiters presented each night.

My first story was how the residents were preparing for the brutal winter. My correspondent Hilary Brown and I watched an old man try to scratch tree roots from the frozen earth along sniper alley. I would produce dozens of more stories in the coming months each more startling than the last; many with true local heroes.

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