December 14, 1995
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST (0240 GMT)
From Correspondent Mark Leff
(CNN) -- For thousands of years, the Balkans have symbolized great empires and varied religions -- Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, and Muslim. But civilization seemed unable to blunt age-old rivalries between Yugoslavia's ethnic communities: namely, Serb, Croat and Muslims.
So it is not surprising that past events have led up to the present Bosnian conflict, one that harks back to early this century.
In 1914, a Serbian nationalist fired a shot in Sarajevo that brought down an emperor's nephew and started the 20th century's first world war.
That war ended the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires, and led to a cross-cultural country linking Roman Catholic Croatia and Slovenia to Serbia, whose people and king were Eastern Orthodox. The name Yugoslavia was adopted in 1929, which until then was known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes.
During World War II, Croats joined the Nazis in exterminating Serbs and others. The Serbs launched their own offensive against the Croats. Thousands died in that conflict.
Josip Broz Tito, a communist from Croatia whose partisans fought on the winning side, led the resistance against the Nazis, ultimately driving them out from Yugoslavia.
Tito was elected to lead the newly created Yugoslav Federation, and he did -- with an iron hand -- until his death in 1980. Soon after, the Soviet Union collapsed, and democracy in Eastern Europe spiraled. Four of six Yugoslav republics elected non-communist governments and the Federation began to disintegrate, reviving old ethnic divisions.
By 1991, the prosperous Croatian republic sought to create a loose federation or dissolve the union completely. Less-wealthy Serbia opposed this. Nevertheless, in June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia declared independence.
The Yugoslav federal army, comprising mainly Serbs, tried to stop Slovenia's break. In July, fighting broke out between Croatian forces and Serb militias.
Fierce fighting in the region over land decimated entire cities, and spread to Bosnia and Herzegovina when that most ethnically mixed of Yugoslav republics declared independence in 1992.
Serb militiamen in both new countries proclaimed their own republics and tried to expand their borders. The fighting broke up Bosnia's ethnic melange to create areas cleansed of other ethnic groups.
And, by the time the United Nations dismissed Yugoslavia from its General Assembly, some 20,000 people had died and up to two million people had become refugees from "ethnic cleansing."
The United Nations pumped in more than 45,000 soldiers to help enforce peace in Yugoslavia and its former republics. The agency tried to protect people only to find that a civil war aimed primarily at civilians took its toll on them as well.
A succession of outside negotiators tried to get the principal Serb, Croat and Muslim political leaders to agree to a new Bosnia with new internal borders that would satisfy all parties.
But in the words of one principal mediator, Lord David Owen, they all wanted more territory than either of the others were prepared to give.
So, for more than three years, negotiators in meetings haggled over lines on maps to try to stop the conflict while fighters from all three sides tried to capture territories by force.
A plan to divide Bosnia into 10 provinces along ethnic lines was accepted by Muslims and Croats, but rejected by Serbs. Fighting resumed, and the Croats and Muslims, who were previously allied, began to battle.
In the process, more than 200,000 men, women and children died.
Finally in November 1995, after nearly four years of bloodshed and some hard bargaining in the U.S. heartland of Dayton, Ohio, an agreement was produced which promised to create a Bosnia and Herzegovina that regional political leaders can live with.
Now, new military guardians are moving in to try to ensure that all the people of Bosnia can live with it too.
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