A decade of bloodshed in the Balkans

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The Independent Online

The rioting on Monday by Slav nationalists in Macedonia may go down as an especially sombre anniversary in this terrible chapter of Balkan history.

On 25 June 1991, Slovenia and Croatia proclaimed their independence from the former Yugoslavia – the event that unleashed the four Balkan wars waged by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb strongman whose appeal against extradition to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague is being heard.

When thousands of Slavs took to the streets of the Macedonian capital, Skopje, exactly a decade later, on 25 June 2001, they may have made a fifth Balkan war inevitable.

The first war, in Slovenia, was a relatively modest affair; it lasted a month, with fewer than 70 dead.

Croatia, with its large Serb minority, was another matter. Mr Milosevic ordered the Yugoslav army into a calamitous conflict that cost at least 10,000 lives before peacein 1991.

Within months, Mr Milosevic was masterminding a third conflict, in Bosnia, after a majority there also voted to leave Yugoslavia. In the Bosnian war, (1992-95)some 250,000 people died, and more than one million were made homeless.

The Dayton, Ohio, deal brought peace to Bosnia in 1995, but Mr Milosevic was soon stirring the pot in Kosovo. Mass killings of suspected Albanian terrorists and their families by paramilitary police in 1998 and 1999 sparked an Albanian uprising, which the police countered with reprisals against civilians – and the fourth Balkan war began.

In March 1999 Nato sent its bombers against Yugoslavia. After an 11-week campaign, Mr Milosevic withdrew – but not before more than half a million Kosovars were driven into Macedonia and Albania. The death toll in Kosovo is uncertain.

Instead of transforming the former Yugoslavia into a Greater Serbia, Mr Milosevic turned it into a pariah state. Slovenia and Croatia are independent. So, technically, is Bosnia. Montenegro, Serbia's lone partner in the Yugoslav federation, is pressing for independence. Kosovo is a United Nations protectorate.

Macedonia, which declared independence in 1992, had seemed to escape the carnage. Now it is on the verge of becoming the fifth war in the Balkans' deadly modern cycle.

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