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Balkans Stage 2

The Medak Pocket

Tasked with protecting civilians in Croatia, Canadian Armed Forces came under heavy fire.

15 – 16 September 1993


Croatian offensive

In September 1993, Croatian and Serbian forces fought in the Lika region of southern Croatia. On September 9, Croatian troops attacked near the town of Medak and pushed the Serbian line back. This created the so-called “Medak Pocket,” Croatian-held territory populated by Serbian people.

Negotiating a ceasefire

Political and public pressure forced the Croatian forces to agree to a ceasefire with the Serbs. The terms of the agreement required both forces to return to their original positions and leave the Medak Pocket on September 15. It fell to UN peace support troops to enforce the fragile agreement.

UN Duty in Bosnia. Photo: Department of National Defence

Canadian soldiers in the middle

The 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry were the best UN troops available for this mission. Supported by two companies of French soldiers, they were to enter the Medak Pocket and make sure both sides left. They were also to help refugees return to their homes in the area.

On September 15, as the Canadian and French troops advanced, Croatian forces began firing on them. The UN troops dug in and created a defensive line. Croatian artillery, rifle and machine gun fire poured in. The Canadians returned fire to defend themselves from the attack. They drove the Croatian forces back over the next 15 hours. It was the heaviest action that Canadian troops had experienced since the Korean War.

A standoff with the world watching

The Canadian commander Lieutenant-Colonel James Calvin negotiated with the Croatian forces. They agreed to withdraw at noon on September 16. But when the UN troops tried to enter the Medak Pocket, they still faced a Croatian roadblock and minefield.

Evidence suggested our troops were being kept out so the Croatians could complete ethnic cleansing there. So Lieutenant-Colonel Calvin held a news conference with international reporters at the scene. He said the Croatian forces were not holding up their end of the ceasefire agreement and hiding their attacks on Serbian civilians. The Croatian forces finally backed down and allowed the UN troops to pass.

Members of PPCLI keep watch for any dangerous movement in the area. Photo: Department of National Defence

The aftermath in the Medak Pocket

The UN forces could finally enter the Medak Pocket. They discovered evidence of horrible violence against the local people. Many Serbian villagers were dead—victims of what looked to be ethnic cleansing by Croatian troops. The Canadians recorded in detail what they found in the villages. Their records were part of later war crimes investigations. Four Canadian soldiers were wounded during the fighting at the Medak Pocket. But the UN forces had persevered. They forced the Croatians to cut short their ethnic cleansing and prevented more civilian deaths.

A special commendation

In 2002, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson recognized Canadians who fought in the Medak Pocket. She awarded the Commander-in-Chief Unit Commendation to the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. This award goes to any unit or sub-unit “that has performed an extraordinary deed or activity of a rare high standard in extremely hazardous circumstances.”

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