The 1990s Balkan wars in key dates

After a UN court found former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic guilty of genocide and war crimes, here is a timeline of the 1990s Balkans conflicts that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.
- Bickering after Tito dies -
Communist Yugoslavia, which emerged shortly after the end of World War II, was made up of six republics: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
Following the death of its autocratic leader Josip Broz Tito in 1980, the Yugoslav federation found itself in crisis, with bickering between ethnic groups and surging nationalist sentiments.
By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, inter-ethnic relations in Yugoslavia were at breaking point. The first multiparty elections in the republics in 1990 were won mostly by nationalists.
The most prosperous republics, Slovenia and Croatia, started advocating a greater decentralisation of Yugoslavia's government.
But the largest republic, Serbia, led by Slobodan Milosevic, rallied fellow Serbs throughout Yugoslavia in a push for centralised control.
- Slovenia and Croatia declare independence -
On June 25, 1991, the parliaments of Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, which led to the deployment of the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav army (JNA) towards affected borders and airports.
After a 10-day conflict, the JNA withdrew from ethnically homogeneous Slovenia.
But in Croatia, Serbian troops sided with ethnic Serb rebels who opposed independence, launching what would become a four-year war.
The eastern town of Vukovar was razed to the ground during a siege by Yugoslav forces in autumn 1991, while the medieval Adriatic town of Dubrovnik was severely damaged.
- Bosnian referendum -
In Bosnia, the most ethnically and religiously diverse republic and home to four million people, Muslims and Croats organised an independence referendum.
The move was fiercely opposed by Belgrade-backed Bosnian Serbs, who made up more than 30 percent of the population.
While Serbs boycotted the vote, 60 percent of Bosnia's citizens voted for independence.
- Bosnian war -
In April 1992 war broke out between Bosnia's Muslims and Croats, who were on one side, and Bosnian Serbs. Bosnia won international recognition a day later.
Led by Radovan Karadzic and armed by the JNA, the Serbs declared that territories under their control belonged to an entity called Republika Srpska.
Soon after, Bosnian Croats turned against the republic's Muslims.
- Siege of Sarajevo -
Bosnian Serb troops immediately started a siege of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo which would last 44 months.
The city's 350,000 residents struggled to get basic necessities and at least 10,000 were killed by sniping and shelling by Serbs.
By May 1992 Bosnian Serbs controlled two-thirds of Bosnia.
- Ethnic cleansing -
In August the first images of skeletal prisoners in camps awoke the world to the campaign of ethnic cleansing by Serb forces.
An estimated 20,000 women, mostly Muslims, were raped.
- Srebrenica massacre -
In July 1995 Bosnian Serb forces took over the UN-protected "safe area" of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia and massacred up to 8,000 Muslim men and boys.
Described by two international courts as genocide, the massacre was the worst mass killing in Europe since the end of World War II.
- NATO air strikes, Dayton agreement -
In August 1995, after the fall of Srebrenica and the bombing of a Sarajevo market in which 41 people were killed, NATO unleashed air strikes on Bosnian Serb positions.
On November 21, 1995, following three weeks of talks in the US city of Dayton, Ohio, the leaders of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia agreed to a peace deal.
In December 1995 a NATO peacekeeping force was deployed in Bosnia, which had been divided into a Muslim-Croat Federation, covering 51 percent of the territory, and a Serb entity, the Republika Srpska.
- The Kosovo conflict -
War then broke out in 1998 in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo between ethnic Albanian rebels seeking independence and Serbia's armed forces.
The fighting ended in 1999 after an 11-week bombing campaign by NATO, by which time about 13,000 people had been killed and hundreds of thousands had fled their homes.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008, a move Serbia refuses to recognise.
- Court investigates crimes -
The International Criminal Court for the Former Yugoslavia, established in 1993, has continued prosecuting those responsible for war crimes since the end of the conflicts.
It indicted 161 people, convicted 83 and acquitted 19. Among those sentenced is Bosnian Serb wartime leader Karadzic, while Milosevic died in prison before being judged.
- 'Butcher of Bosnia' guilty -
On November 22, 2017, the court found Mladic guilty on 10 counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the man dubbed "The Butcher of Bosnia" was found not guilty of genocide in the municipalities.
The verdict was long-awaited by tens of thousands of victims across the bitterly-divided region.
It was the final trial for the special tribunal as it prepares to close its doors in December.
Ratko Mladic, who was convicted of genocide on Wednesday, believed himself to be a crusading defender of the Serbs but was dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" for mass slaughter at the hands of his forces.
The ruthless commander of Bosnian Serb troops in the 1990s civil war, Mladic came to symbolise a barbaric plan to rid swathes of Bosnian territory of Croats and Muslims and carve out a Serb-only state.
The UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein described him as "the epitome of evil" after Wednesday's verdict.
Captured in 2011 after 16 years on the run, Europe's most wanted man was by then an ailing shadow of his former stocky self.
But the general's defiance appeared undimmed during his trial at The Hague, although he was dogged by ill health, and the 74-year-old remains a hero to many Serbs to this day.
To the families of war victims, he will forever be associated with the bloody 44-month siege of Sarajevo and the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica.
Mladic presented the sacking of the eastern Bosnian enclave as retribution against "the Turks" for a massacre of Serbs under the Ottoman Empire, wrote journalist Julian Borger in his book "The Butcher's Trail", published last year.
"He reassured panicked Muslim women captives that their loved ones would be safe at the same time his soldiers were rounding up and slaughtering eight thousand of their husbands and sons," Borger wrote.
Mladic was convicted of genocide over the killings, considered the worst atrocities on European soil since the end of World War II.
In all, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia found him guilty on 10 counts including genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-1995 war that killed 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million as ethnic rivalries tore apart Yugoslavia. But they found him not guilty of genocide in the municipalities.
Mladic denied all the charges, describing them as "obnoxious" at his first court appearance in 2011.
"I defended my country and my people," he said.
- Military path -
Born in the village of Bozinovici in eastern Bosnia, Mladic's life was struck by bloodshed and tragedy as a toddler, when his father was killed in battle by the Ustasha, Croatia's fascist World War II regime.
Mladic followed his parent's military path and was a colonel in the Yugoslav army when the federation began to crumble in June 1991.
He was sent to organise the Serb-dominated army in Croatia, and the following May he was made commander of Bosnian Serb forces, tasked with seizing land across Bosnia for Serbs.
Former Yugoslav army spokesman Ljubodrag Stojadinovic once described Mladic as "narcissistic, conceited, vain and arrogant".
In 1994, at the height of the war, Mladic's only daughter Ana committed suicide in Belgrade, aged 23, with her father's favourite pistol.
Those close to the general were reported as saying that he was pushed over the edge by her death, which came a year before the Srebrenica massacre took place.
The court also held Mladic responsible for the interminable siege of Sarajevo, which claimed an estimated 10,000 lives and deprived the city of food, water and electricity with a barrage of shells and sniper fire.
At the trial's end, prosecutor Alan Tieger dismissed defence claims that the general's role in the conflict was limited, maintaining he was the man who "called the shots".
- 'Coward's war' -
Although Mladic was revered by his men, "his war was a coward's war", according to veteran Balkans journalist Tim Judah.
"He fought few pitched battles but managed to drive hundreds of thousands of unarmed people out of their homes," Judah wrote in his book "The Serbs".
Mladic was indicted by the ICTY in 1995 and dismissed from his post the following year. But he initially enjoyed a luxurious and protected life as a fugitive, staying in Serbian military resorts with an entourage of staff, according to Borger.
He later went underground in Belgrade after the fall of strongman Slobodan Milosevic -- who died while on trial at The Hague in 2006 -- and as Serbia came under growing pressure from the West to capture Mladic.
The general was finally arrested in May 2011 at his cousin's house in bucolic northern Serbia.
His last request before his transfer to the court was to visit his daughter's grave.
© 2017 AFP
The 1990s Balkan wars in key dates The 1990s Balkan wars in key dates Reviewed by Alexander Von Stern on 05:08:00 Rating: 5