SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — As their ethnic leaders gathered around a table outside Dayton, Ohio, to initial a U.S.-brokered peace deal a quarter-century ago, Edisa Sehic and Janko Samoukovic still were enemies in a war in Bosnia that killed over 100,000 people.
But the two, one an ethnic Bosniak woman and the other an ethnic Serb man, have often come together in recent years to visit schools and town halls where they talk about the futility of war from their first-hand experiences.
In many ways, Bosnia today is a country at peace, a testament to the success of the Dayton Accords, which ended more than 3 1/2 years of bloodshed when they were endorsed 25 years ago on Saturday.
But more than a generation after the shooting and shelling stopped, full peace still feels elusive in Bosnia, where the April 1992-Dec. 1995 war gave rise to an ethnic cleansing campaign and Europe’s first genocide since World War II.
The country’s three ethnic groups — Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats — live in fear of renewed conflict as their nationalist leaders continue to stoke ethnic animosities for political gain.
Some Bosnians hope the election of Joe Biden as the next US president will bolster change by renewing Western interest in the country, one of Europe’s poorest. Biden visited Bosnia in 2009 as vice president, becoming the last key US leader to do so.
When the Dayton peace agreement was reached in 1995, Sehic was a soldier with the Bosnian government army and Samoukovic was fighting with Bosnian Serb troops seeking to dismember the country and unite the territory they claimed for their own with neighboring Serbia.
The war was sparked by the break-up of Yugoslavia, which led Bosnia to declare its independence despite opposition from ethnic Serbs, who made up about one-third of its ethnically and religiously mixed population.
Armed and backed by neighboring Serbia, Bosnian Serbs conquered 60% of Bosnia’s territory in less than two months, committing atrocities against their Bosniak and Croat compatriots.