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Key Points about the 1990s Balkan Wars

Background to the wars

Communist Yugoslavia was established at the end of World War II. It contained six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

Following the death of its autocratic leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, there was bickering between the various Yugoslav ethnic groups. By 1989, Yugoslavia was at breaking point, with nationalists winning most of the first multi-party elections in the republics.

Slovenia and Croatia immediately started calling for decentralization of Yugoslavia. But Serbia, the largest republic, insisted on further centralization. Serb leader Milosevic wanted to create a Greater Serbia by annexing Serb-populated parts of Croatia and Bosnia.

What sparked the conflicts

In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, triggering the immediate deployment of the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav army (JNA) towards the affected borders.

In Croatia, Serbian troops moved to fight on the side of Croatia's ethnic Serb rebels, who opposed independence. A four-year long war began.

Meanwhile in Bosnia, the most ethnically and religiously diverse Yugoslav republic and home to four million people, Muslims and Croats organized an independence referendum. It was fiercely opposed by Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serbs, who made up more than 30 percent of the population. 60 percent of Bosnia's citizens voted for independence and Bosnia won international recognition on April 6, 1992.

Bosnian Serbs immediately launched a widespread conflict, claiming territories under their control belonged to a Serb entity. Then, Bosnian Croats turned against the Muslims and the three sides fought each other for over three years.

What happened during the war

More than 120,000 people died in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia.

Bosnia's capital Sarajevo was under siege for 44 months, during which its 350,000 residents struggled to get basic necessities.

The worst atrocity occurred in July 1995 when Bosnian Serb forces overran the town of Srebrenica, slaughtering almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys in a massacre described by two international courts as genocide.

How the conflicts ended

The atrocities led NATO to launch massive air strikes against Bosnian Serb military positions.

Following intense pressure from the US-led international community, the Dayton agreement was reached in November 1995. Bosnia was divided along ethnic lines into two semi-autonomous entities.

Another war broke out in 1998 in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo, this time between pro-independence ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbia's armed forces. That war ended in 1999 after an 11-week bombing campaign by NATO. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognize.


Source: Key Points about the 1990s Balkan Wars
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