Innocent victims of his ambition left strewn across the Balkans

The Dead
Click to follow

The fall of Slobodan Milosevic leaves millions of victims from the wars he provoked in the former Yugoslavia. Vukovar in 1991, Srebrenica in 1995, Racak in 1999: throughout the decade and from one end of the Balkans to the other, bloody monuments were left to his ambition.

The fall of Slobodan Milosevic leaves millions of victims from the wars he provoked in the former Yugoslavia. Vukovar in 1991, Srebrenica in 1995, Racak in 1999: throughout the decade and from one end of the Balkans to the other, bloody monuments were left to his ambition.

It was the last of his victims - his own people in Serbia - who brought him down. They were also his first victims. Seeing the opportunity to exploit the fears of the Serbian minority in Kosovo, he turned himself into a nationalist, and as Serbian President set out to build a "greater Serbia" from the remains of Yugoslavia.

The first clashes in this crusade were far to the north, in Slovenia. The Slovenes managed to withdraw from Yugoslavia in mid-1991 with next to no bloodshed, however, and Mr Milosevic saved his strength for more significant conflicts closer to the Serb heartland.

Later that year the Yugoslav national army fought alongside Serb militias against the Croats in the two regions of Croatia where Serbs were in the majority - Krajina and eastern Slavonia. Vukovar fought off the encircling Serb forces for weeks; by the time it fell in November 1991, hundreds were dead and almost every building destroyed.

But the Croatian conflict was eclipsed by the far longer and crueller war about to start in Bosnia. In spring 1992 Sarajevo was divided, and a siege began which was not lifted until 1995.

The bloodiest conflict in Europe since 1945 pitted Serbs, Croats and Muslims against each other, but the Muslims were least able to defend themselves. In 1995, the US took a hand, bombing the Serbs to the negotiating table. But some of the ghastliest events were yet to come. At Srebrenica, Dutch peace-keeping troops stood by helplessly as Bosnian Serb forces massacred 8,000 Muslim men in the worst single atrocity in Europe in half a century.

Soon afterwards the Croatian army poured into Krajina, driving hundreds of thousands of Serbs into Serbia. Those resettled in Kosovo found themselves in the midst of another conflict.

By the end of 1995 Bosnia was peaceful. But there remained the issue of Kosovo, where the 90 per cent Albanian majority were ignored. The militant Kosovo Liberation Army came into existence.

The summer of 1998 saw such savage reprisals by Belgrade's forces against KLA provocations that the international community again intervened. In January 1999, monitors found the bodies of more than 40 Albanians on a hill above Racak, and the slide into another war began.

The Nato bombing campaign was the signal for a reprise of the horrors of the first half of the Nineties - rape, the slaughter of unarmed civilians, "ethnic cleansing". This time, however, it was the Serbs of Kosovo who finally lost out.

The international community drove Mr Milosevic out of Kosovo in time for the millennium. But getting him out of office had to be left to the Serbs themselves.

Comments