The Bosnian war: 1992-1995

According to the Sarajevo-based non-governmental Research and Documentation Center, at least 97,000 civilians and soldiers were killed during the war. In addition, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated over 2.7 million refugees, internally displaced and war-affected persons in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The levels of savagery, which included rape as a weapon and the murder of civilians or surrendered enemies, generated enormous hate, fear and mistrust.


The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was over territory, and went through several phases. The Bosnian government, in which Muslims, Serbs and Croats participated, originally fought a largely defensive battle to try and retain enough land to make a viable state. They had considerable support in cities, where the multi-ethnic ideal was strongest.

Serb forces sought to link Serb areas in Bosnia

The Bosnian Serbs, with considerable support from the Yugoslav National Army, sought to establish complete control in areas where they were in the majority, as well as a large part of the countryside. Their two political centers were Pale and Banja Luka. They also laid siege to urban centers that supported the government, including Sarajevo, Srebrenica, Gorazde, and Tuzla.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, left, and Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic at an assembly session in Pale, near Sarajevo. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has indicted Mladic and Karadzic for genocide and war crimes. (© AP/Wide World Photo/Srdjan Ilic)

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, left, and Bosnian Serb army commander General Ratko Mladic at an assembly session in Pale, near Sarajevo. (© AP/Wide World Photo/Srdjan Ilic)

Serb forces also sought to secure communications between Serbia and enclaves in the Krajina, which is why the town of Brcko was so important to them, as a corridor between the two Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia. Serbs were also the local majority in the extreme South of the country, around the city of Trebinje.

Many Croats aligned with Zagreb

While many Bosnian Croats supported the Bosnian government, others saw their futures with Croatia. The latter were particularly strong in western Herzegovina, under the leadership of Mate Boban, where their goal was control of the city of Mostar and eventual inclusion in a "Greater Croatia."

Separatist Croats and Serbs count on help from neighboring countries

Separatist Croats and Serbs could count on logistic help from neighboring countries: the Bosnian government was isolated, and militarily at a disadvantage. Its main asset was the continuing support of many Bosnians of all ethnic groups, and international recognition.

Bosnian government hoped for internationally enforced peace settlement

In the first months of the war, the Bosnian government pinned its hopes on surviving until an internationally-enforced peace settlement was reached.

In the region of Bihac, Fikret Abdic pursued a policy of accommodation with Croat and Serb forces, eventually declaring regional autonomy and signing a separate peace in 1992.