War leader of Bosnian Muslims dies at 78

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The Independent Online

Alija Izetbegovic, the former Bosnian Muslim leader, died yesterday aged 78.

The former Bosnian president's death was caused by long-standing heart disease, complicated by fractured ribs, said Dr Amila Arslanagic, head of the cardiology department at the Sarajevo hospital where Mr Izetbegovic died.

Mr Izetbegovic was a central figure in Bosnia's 1992 to 1995 war of independence. He won worldwide sympathy by running the government during the long siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serbs. More than 10,000 people were killed in Sarajevo by shelling and sniping from Bosnian Serb forces.

Bosnia-Herzegovina saw the worst war crimes in Europe since the Second World War. The Bosnian Serb army overran the Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in July 1995 and killed more than 7,000 men.

Mr Izetbegovic quit politics in October 2000 because of his age and failing health.

His moment of triumph came with the end of the war in 1995, when the US-brokered Dayton peace agreement was signed in Paris. It confirmed the independence and the multi-ethnic character of Bosnia-Herzegovina, populated by Muslims, Serbs and Croats.

The death of Mr Izetbegovic marks the end of an era in the Balkans. The Croatian President at the time, Franjo Tudjman, died in December 1999. The Serbian President at the time, Slobodan Milosevic, was toppled from power three years ago and is standing trial for war crimes and genocide at the international tribunal in The Hague. About 240,000 people died in the wars in former Yugoslavia.

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