After the Referendum on Independence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosnian Serb forces began shelling the capital city of Sarajevo on 7 April, 1992, and were soon joined in their attack by units of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), which was already conducted military operations in other parts of the country (even in 1991). The violence quickly spread to Eastern Bosnia where the Muslim populations in small villages and cities like Višegrad, Foča, and Zvornik were forced to flee under heavy fire. The Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing was underway. In less than two months, around two-thirds of the Bosnian territory had been captured through the coordinated assault of the JNA and Bosnian Serb police and paramilitary forces under the command of General Ratko Mladić.
The Bosnian Serb Army (Vojska Republika Srpska/VRS) continued its devastation and advance, particularly in Eastern Bosnia, throughout 1992. While the hastily assembled and poorly equipped Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (RBiH) along with some Bosnian Croat forces managed to hold some positions along the front lines, their resistance was crippled by a pre-existing international arms embargo which greatly advantaged Serbian forces, given their monopoly over the weapons supplies of the JNA. Apart from tipping the scales against the Boniaks (Bosnian Muslims) in this manner, the international community’s involvement remained minimal at the outset of the conflict, mostly confined to the delivery of humanitarian aid. Although the UN eschewed the possibility of military intervention, they did eventual deploy protection forces (UNPROFOR) to a number of so-called UN “safe areas.”
Meanwhile, the atrocities inflicted on Muslim and Croat populations by Bosnian Serb forces grew more numerous and more intense. Along with laying siege to Bosnian cities such as Sarajevo and the violent expulsion of entire Bosniak communities from their homes, the Bosnian Serbs established concentration camps as well as rape camps across Bosnia.
While Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) were by far its most numerous victims, all non-Serb populations were targets of the VRS/JNA ethnic cleansing campaign, and in 1994 Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Muslims agreed to a joint federation. By this time, Bosnian Serb forces had come to control roughly seventy percent of Bosnian territory. While internationally mediated peace talks had resulted in a number of proposals, the Bosnian Serbs’ unwillingness to relinquish any of this acquired land doomed these proposals to failure.
In 1995, following the genocide in Srebrenica and a series of Bosnian Serb attacks on a Sarajevo market, more concentrated NATO airstrikes combined with the ARBiH and HVO/HV offensive at last succeeded in bringing the RS leadership to the negotiating table. President of FR Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milošević, represented the RS at the U.S.-led peace negotiations which were held in Dayton, Ohio in November, 1995. The resultant Dayton Accords, formally signed by all relevant partiers the following December, finally put an end to the conflict. After three years of bloody conflict, resulting in genocide, and well over 100,000 casualties and some 2,000,000 displaced persons, peace was finally achieved in Bosnia and Herzegovina.