By Kent Spencer, The Province September 26, 2013
The 20th anniversary is coming up this weekend for Canadian soldiers from Vancouver who took part in a little-known but important incident during the conflict following the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Canadian Army Sgt. Doug Setter said Thursday that a lengthy firefight at the village of Medak in Croatia deserves to be remembered because the soldiers put their lives on the line to shield innocent civilians.
"These guys saved lives," he said. "They could have backed off and run away."
He said veterans plan to meet this weekend in North Vancouver to talk about the biggest shooting incident involving Canadian Forces since the Korean War.
After the breakup of Yugoslavia, the country was torn apart by warring factions.
When Canadians arrived as part of a UN peacekeeping force in 1993, Setter said, they discovered atrocities committed by Serbs as well as Croats.
They saw blood-spattered walls, civilians shot in the back of the head and evidence of torture.
"The gates of Hell had opened. Even the chickens were mutilated. These people weren't human," he said.
The Canadians' job was to keep the Serbs and Croats apart, but their role was not respected. They were often shot at and shelled despite flying the blue UN flag.
"Everything was mined. When I got back, I couldn't walk on my grass for three weeks," said Setter.
The 450 Canadian peacekeepers were allowed to return fire only when directly fired upon.
That happened in mid-September in Medak, a small village located in a Serbian enclave within Croatia.
The isolated Serbs were attacked by Croats claiming the territory for themselves.
Setter said one key action involved a squad of eight to 10 reservists from the Seaforth Highlanders in Vancouver.
After the Canadians were fired upon, Setter said, they decided to make a stand on ground outside some half-destroyed buildings.
The Canadians poured a steady stream of heavy-calibre fire into the Croat positions during a 16-hour battle lasting through the night.
No Canadians were injured; the Croats reported 27 killed and wounded.
Although some villagers lost their lives, Setter believes an even bigger tragedy was prevented.
Three Vancouver veterans have publicly acknowledged their part: Privates Tony Spiess, Jarret Chow and Rob Deans.
Setter said vets are still haunted.
"They had to kill people. Some believe they could have saved even more villagers if they had arrived sooner," he said.
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