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Bosnia’s Ethnic Schisms Run Deep

Thu., Dec. 25, 1997, midnight

The war in Bosnia has taken more than lives. It’s shattered one of Europe’s exotic and diverse cultures.

Three major ethnic groups - Muslims, Eastern Orthodox Serbs and Roman Catholic Croats - have lived together in this Eastern European region for centuries.

The Turkish Ottomans, who conquered the area in 1463, classified the population along religious lines and granted special privileges to Muslims.

Consequently, many people converted to Islam from Christianity during 400 years of Ottoman rule, which ended in 1878.

Some who did not convert harbored grudges against those who did. By the 19th century, the gulf among the three ethnic groups had widened.

Ethnic violence erupted during World War II, when occupying Germany took the side of Croatian fascists. The fascists slaughtered Serbs, Jews and Gypsies in Croatia.

Meanwhile, resistance movements used the mountainous terrain of Bosnia in an effort to rid the region of the Nazis.

The resistance groups also fought among themselves. A communist group, the Partisans, ultimately triumphed over the Nazis and other rival factions.

After the war, Partisan leader Josip “Tito” Broz united Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and several smaller provinces under the federation of Yugoslavia.

Tito was a communist, but he broke with Stalin early and led his country on an independent course. He maintained a strong federal structure that allowed no single republic to predominate.

Tito’s death in 1980 began the unraveling of Yugoslavia. The federation ultimately broke apart.

Bosnia declared its independence in 1992, and hostilities erupted almost immediately. It is the only former Yugoslav republic with a Muslim majority, about 44 percent; 31 percent of Bosnians are Eastern Orthodox Serbs, and 17 percent Roman Catholic Croats.

When Bosnia declared independence, the Serb minority rebelled, refusing to live in a state dominated by Muslims. They declared their own Bosnian Serb Republic with headquarters in Pale.

The ensuing war included:

A three-year siege and shelling of the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, during which 10,000 people were killed.

“Ethnic cleansing” - driving members of different ethnic communities out of villages and killing many of them. Serb militias and Bosnia-based units of the Yugoslav army and paramilitaries from Serbia drove out hundreds of thousands of Muslims and Croats. Muslim women also were raped.

By the summer of 1992, the Serbs had wrested control of 70 percent of Bosnia from Muslims, with Bosnian Croats holding most of the remainder.

The war caught the Muslim majority unprepared. Thousands were driven out of their villages and fled to Sarajevo and nearby areas, which later were declared “safe areas” by the United Nations. U.N. troops, however, failed in their objective, as Serbs attacked the area and kidnapped and killed many Muslims.

Muslims also engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of villages but to a lesser degree than the Serbs.

In the summer of 1995, Muslim fighters joined Croatian militias and soldiers from Croatia to retake much of the area Serbs had captured. When fighting ended in the fall, the Muslim-Croat Federation held about half of Bosnia, and the Serbs the other half.

On Nov. 21, 1995, Muslim, Serbian and Croatian leaders met in Dayton, Ohio, and initialed peace accords that ended the war formally on Dec. 14.

The Dayton agreement brought in more than 60,000 NATO-led peacekeeping troops. It is the alliance’s most ambitious mission ever.

Warring armies returned to their barracks, but other elements of the Dayton accords have yet to be fulfilled.

Many alleged war criminals indicted by an international tribunal remain at large; thousands of Bosnian haven’t returned to their home towns; joint governing institutions designed to weave the country back together are not functioning, and essential police reform is far behind schedule.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = From staff and wire reports Compiled from reports by staff writer Dan McComb, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.


 
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