In the Balkans, however, altogether more basic priorities preoccupied the warring factions of a disintegrating Yugoslavia. After Bosnia-Herzegovina's declaration of independence in March, the speed with which Serbian forces, supported by the Yugoslav army, set about the new state took the international community by surprise. Though it became apparent that both sides committed atrocities in the ensuing conflict, the sharpest criticism was reserved for the Serbs' "ethnic cleansing" campaign. As they closed in on the capital, Sarajevo, the Serbs systematically attempted to eradicate Croats and Muslims from all Bosnian territory that they annexed.
Despite the fact that 1.4 million Bosnian residents abandoned their homes to escape the terror, it took news of Serbian prison camps to prompt the West to take action.
However, though some commentators suggested that the White House was aware of the appalling conditions in the camps as early as July, little was done until the following month, when television pictures of skeletal inmates provoked outrage around the world. The Red Cross told of "innocent civilians being arrested and subjected to inhumane treatment as part of a policy of forced population transfers carried out on a massive scale". It is believed that the camp commanders only allowed television news crews to film the healthiest prisoners.
The US itself witnessed how quickly society could descend into chaos. Rioting in May claimed the lives of 58 Los Angeles citizens when race relations, already strained, broke down completely with the acquittal by an all-white jury of four white policeman on assault charges. The policeman had been caught on video savagely beating Rodney King, a young black man. Five thousand soldiers were called in to restore order to the city, where the rioting caused damage estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.