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People vs. Milosevic, Part 2: Balkan wars

Former ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrooke: "There was nothing ultimately very charming about what (Milosevic) did"  

By CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour

BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- A few weeks after Slobodan Milosevic had been elected president of Serbia, more than a million people came to cheer him on Kosovo's field of blackbirds.

It was June 28, 1989, the 600th anniversary of the battle of Kosovo -- a legendary defeat that had come to symbolize Serbian martyrdom. And the new president was warming to that theme.

In a multi-ethnic region scarred by centuries of warfare, Milosevic -- a former communist bank official -- cast himself now as Serbia's new savior.

"Before the wars started, when our ambassador described him as a Yugoslav Gorbachev, there were a lot of misperceptions and people called him charming, because he had a certain ability to speak colloquial English," says Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

The People vs. Milosevic
Part 1: Milosevic's arrest 
Part 2: Balkan wars 
Part 3: Downfall 
Part 4: Epic corruption 
Part 5: Bodybags 
Part 6: Shadows 

"But there was nothing ultimately very charming about what he did."

In 1989 he removed Kosovo's autonomy, turning the province's Albanian majority into second-class citizens.

"Let's face it, he enjoyed a tremendous support, and of course the people were not aware for a number of years initially that this was leading to bloodshed, that this was leading to crime, that this country will be totally isolated," says political scientist Vojin Dimitrijevic.

Milosevic's display of Serbian authority helped stoke the fires of nationalism in other parts of Yugoslavia.

One by one the republics started to break away. Slovenia, Croatia, then Bosnia. Beginning in 1991, Milosevic sent troops and paramilitaries to fortify Serb communities in both Croatia and Bosnia. This escalated into what the world quickly came to know as ethnic cleansing.

"He was a man who instituted an evil regime in much of the region," says Holbrooke.

"He is ultimately responsible for these wars. He started them, or alternatively he stimulated them by his words, or by his actions"

With Serbian soldiers being killed, Belgrade's citizens began protesting the young men's deaths. They were labeled traitors and they were beaten by Milosevic's police.

"Fear was prevalent here, and not only fear from the secret police, but fear from your neighbor. Neighbors. You know, it's terribly unpleasant even for physically courageous people to be regarded by their neighbors as traitors. And many of us were regarded like that," says Dimitrijevic.

Srebrenica massacre

In the spring of 1992, soldiers from the Yugoslav National Army joined Bosnian Serb forces in the hills above Sarajevo, raining terror on the Bosnian capital in the hopes of crushing the fledgling state.

The siege of that multi-ethnic city cost more than 10,000 lives and lasted almost four years.

Refugees from Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 remain missing following a massacre by Bosnian Serb forces  

In the summer of 1995 came the single worst atrocity of the entire Balkan war -- the massacre at Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces. To this day more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys remain missing.

Later that year, Milosevic and the leaders of Bosnia and Croatia sign the Dayton Peace Agreement, formally ending the war.

"Due to the successful conclusion of the negotiations in Dayton, this day will enter into the history as the date of the end of the war in the area of the former Yugoslavia," Milosevic said.

With the wars now over, at home Milosevic found his authority increasingly challenged.

"Somewhere in 1998 Milosevic realized that he had really lost the initial Hitler-like support he had in the population," says Dimitrijevic.

So that year he again resorted to violent nationalism, this time in Kosovo -- the place where he had first planted those seeds a decade earlier. The ethnic Albanians he had disenfranchized then had now built their own army -- the KLA, the Kosovo Liberation Army.

"He realized that he could not prosper without the war. Whenever there was no war, he was in trouble in Serbia," says Dimitrijevic.

But the West had had enough of Milosevic's wars, and when he refused a deal that would bring NATO peacekeepers into Kosovo, NATO instead bombed Milosevic into submission.

It took 78 days for him to finally back down. But for the people of Serbia this was one defeat too many.


• Case against Milosevic In-depth Special

• International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

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