BOSNIAN GOVT VS SERBIAN INSURGENTS
Years: 1992-1995 | Est. deaths: 175 000
Published prior to 2013
Being in the middle of a wider conflict, the situation in Bosnia quickly escalated, even before the referendum results were announced.
The first casualty in Bosnia is a point of contention between Serbs and Bosniaks. Serbs claim this was Nikola Gardović, a groom’s father who was killed at a Serb wedding procession on the first day of the referendum, on February 29, 1992 in Sarajevo’s old town Baščaršija. Bosniaks meanwhile consider the first casualty of the war to be Suada Dilberović, who was shot during a peace march by unidentified gunmen on April 5.
Note that this was not actually the start of the war-related activities on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On September 30, 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) destroyed a small village of Ravno located in Herzegovina and inhabited by Croats during the course of its siege of the city of Dubrovnik (which was on the territory of Croatia itself). On September 19, the JNA moved some extra troops to the area around the city of Mostar, which was publicly protested by the local government. Finally, on November 18, 1991 the Croats of Herzegovina, formed the "Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia" (Hrvatska Zajednica Herceg-Bosna) as an national supra-organization that aimed to protect their interests.
The Yugoslav People’s Army was deployed around Bosnia and Herzegovina and tried to take control of all major geostrategic points as soon as the independence was declared in April 1992. The Croats organized a military formation of their own called the Croatian Defense Council (Hrvatsko Vijeće Obrane, HVO), the Bosniaks mostly organized into the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Armija Bosne i Hercegovine, Armija BiH), while the Serbs participated in the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske, VRS). In some places, smaller paramilitary units were active, such as the Serb "White Eagles" (Beli Orlovi), Bosniak "Patriotic League" and "Green Berets" (Zelene Beretke), or Croat "Croatian Defense Forces" (Hrvatske Obrambene Snage).
The war between the three constitutive nations turned out to be probably the most chaotic and bloody war in Europe since World War II. Numerous cease-fire agreements were signed, only to be broken again when one of the sides felt it was to their advantage.
The United Nations repeatedly attempted to stop the war, but wasn’t particularly successful. Cyrus Vance and David Owen drew up a much-touted peace plan during 1992 but it did not have much result.
In June 1992, the United Nations Protection Force which had originally been deployed in Croatia, had its mandate extended into Bosnia and Herzegovina, initially to protect the Sarajevo International Airport. In September, the role of the UNPROFOR was expanded in order to protect humanitarian aid and assist in the delivery of the relief in the whole Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as aid in the protection of civilian refugees when required by the Red Cross.
Initially it was Bosniaks and Croats together against the Serbs on the other side. The Serbs had the upper hand due to heavier weaponry (despite less manpower) and established control over most of the Serb-populated rural and urban regions excluding the larger towns of Sarajevo and Mostar.
Most of the capital Sarajevo was held by the Bosniaks and in order to prevent the Bosnian army from being deployed out of the town, the Bosnian Serb Army surrounded it, deploying troops and artillery in the surrounding hills. They imposed a blockade on all traffic in and out the city on May 2, 1992, starting what was to be known as the siege of Sarajevo.
The Bosnian Serbs often bombarded the civilians of all ethnicities in the city. They held on to a few Sarajevo suburbs (Grbavica and parts of Dobrinja) which were also shelled by the Bosnian government forces as well. The civilian death count in Sarajevo would pass 12,000 by the end of the war.
Mostar was also surrounded for nine months, and much of its historic city was destroyed by shelling.
To make matters even worse, in 1993, after the failure of the so-called Vance-Owen peace plan, the Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks began fighting over the 30 percent of Bosnia they held. This caused the creation of even more ethnic enclaves and even further bloodshed.
In an attempt to protect civilians, UNPROFOR’s role was further extended in 1993 to protect the "safe havens" that it had declared around a number of towns including Sarajevo, Goražde and Srebrenica.
Eventually even NATO got involved when its jets shot down four Serb aircraft over central Bosnia on February 8, 1994, in what was supposed to be a UN declared "no-fly zone"; this was the alliance’s first use of force since it was founded in 1949.
In March 1994, Bosniaks and Croats in Bosnia signed the Washington peace agreement, creating the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This narrowed the field of warring parties down to two.
A mass killing, widely considered the largest in Europe since World War II, happened in July 1995. Reportedly in retaliation to previous incursions by Naser Orić’s troops, Serb troops under general Ratko Mladić occupied the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia, after which some 7000 Bosniak males were killed (See the Srebrenica Massacre article for details).
The war continued through most of 1995, and with Croatia taking over the Serb Krajina in early August, the Bosniak-Croat alliance gained the initiative in the war, taking much of western Bosnia from the Serbs. At that point, the international community pressured Milošević, Tuđman and Izetbegović to the negotiation table and finally the war ended with the Dayton Peace Agreement signed on November 21, 1995 (the final version was signed December 14, 1995 in Paris).
In the end, the war caused an estimated 278,000 dead and missing persons and another 1,325,000 refugees and exiles from Bosnia and Herzegovina.