Bosnia in Conflict
In 1992 Bosnia declared independence from Yugoslavia. War soon followed claiming over 97,000 lives. Around 8,000 were killed at Srebrenica during the single biggest massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with five other semi-autonomous republics of Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, and the provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina, formed the federal state of Yugoslavia. It was one of the most ethnically diverse states in Europe.
During the Second World War Yugoslavia was divided and occupied by the Axis powers. By 1942 the Yugoslav people were also involved in a complex and brutal civil war. Over 6 percent of the population was killed during this period.The collapse of Yugoslavia
Tensions between the republics were exploited by Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic the leaders of Croatia and Serbia, Milosevic found that the idea of ‘greater Serbia’ had strong popular appeal, especially among Serb minorities living in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo.
Resenting Serb dominance, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence in 1991 and they were attacked by the Yugoslav’s People Army (JNA) which was loyal to Serbia. The attack on Slovenia was unsuccessful, but by the end of August 1991, Serb forces had captured one third of Croatia. The war ended in early 1992 with a UN ceasefire. But just as hostilities died down in Croatia, a much bigger conflict was brewing in Bosnia.The war in Bosnia
In March 1992, Bosnia did not want to remain in a shrunken Yugoslavia dominated by Serbia and declared independence under the Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic. In April 1992, bitter fighting broke out between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Serbs, supported by Serbia.
‘It is estimated that over 97,000 people were killed during the war and around 2 million displaced from their homes’
Numerous atrocities were committed during the war, including rape. Bosnian Serbs implemented a campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ forcing Bosnian Muslims out of Serb areas. Bosnia’s cosmopolitan capital Sarajevo was attacked and besieged by the Bosnian Serb Army.
By the end of June 1992, Serbs controlled more than two thirds of Bosnia. In August, Western journalists discovered Serb-run concentration camps mostly holding Bosnian Muslims.
In central Bosnia, Bosnian Muslims were fighting Bosnian Croats who wanted to be part of Croatia. Fighting was particularly intense around Mostar, causing the destruction of the famous sixteenth century Old Bridge in November 1993.
In 1994, under pressure from America, a ceasefire was agreed between Bosnian Muslims and Croats. A Bosnian-Croat Federation was established to fight the Serbs.
Unwilling to intervene militarily, international response to the war in Bosnia was mostly limited to providing humanitarian aid and introducing economic sanctions against Serbia. Repeated attempts at arranging ceasefires met with little lasting success. In May 1993, the UN designated ‘safe areas’ for Muslim refugees but with a limited mandate and manpower, the areas were rarely safe. In July 1995, Serb forces killed around 8,000 boys and men in the ‘safe area’ of Srebrenica. It was the biggest single massacre in Europe since the Second World War.
Steps towards peace
At a conference in London in 1995 agreement was reached to deploy NATO air strikes against Bosnian Serb forces to try to bring the war to an end. In September 1995 US-backed Croatian and Bosnian forces, made the first serious military gains against Serb forces. American diplomatic pressure and NATO air strikes increased the pressure on Serbia.
In November 1995 a peace conference was convened in Dayton, Ohio and a treaty was formally signed in December. In the same month a multinational force called IFOR (Implementation Force) led by NATO was sent to Bosnia to uphold the Dayton Agreement, which had created two self-governing entities within Bosnia, the Bosnian Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. IFOR was replaced by SFOR (Stabilisation Force) in December 1996. SFOR officially ceased operations in December 2005.Legacy
In February 2007 the International Criminal Court cleared the Serbian state of direct involvement in genocide. But it ruled that it breached international law by failing to prevent individuals from carrying out the Srebrenica massacre, and for not handing over individuals accused of committing genocide. Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic was not caught until July 2008 and army chief Ratko Mladic remains at large.