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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 October, 2003, 14:07 GMT 15:07 UK
Obituary: Alija Izetbegovic
Alija Izetbegovic
Izetbegovic: Bosnian father-figure
Alija Izetbegovic's tenure as president and later co-president of Bosnia-Hercegovina - from 1990 to 2000 - was dominated by conflict in the Balkans. In 1995 he signed the US-brokered Dayton Agreement which ended the war.

Alija Izetbegovic will be best remembered as the president of Bosnia during the bloody war which wracked the Balkans during the early 1990s.

For much of the time, he and his government were trapped in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, surrounded by Serbian forces positioned on the hills which overlook the city.

But he, and his country, survived. The 1995 peace agreement allowed Bosnia to begin reconstruction and make tentative moves towards reconciliation.

Our choice not to stay in a rump Yugoslavia is quite clear
Alija Izetbegovic, 26 January 1992
Alija Izetbegovic's early life was defined by his Muslim dissidence in an atheist state and the repressive actions of Yugoslav leaders.

Born in 1925 in Bosanki Samac, a town in northern Bosnia, Izetbegovic's Muslim family moved to Sarajevo in his childhood. Much of his adolescence was spent under Nazi occupation.

After World War II, he graduated in law from Sarajevo University and earned a reputation as a fervent anti-communist.

Jailed

In the late 1940s he was jailed for three years by Tito's communist authorities for membership of a nationalist group, the Young Muslims, which campaigned against the religious constraints imposed by the government.

He wrote an "Islamic declaration" in 1970 which the former communist authorities in Yugoslavia interpreted as a call for the introduction of fundamentalist Sharia law in Bosnia-Hercegovina - then one of the Yugoslav republics.

Izetbegovic was jailed once more - this time for nine years - in 1983 by Tito's successors, who accused him of plotting a coup and disseminating "Islamic propaganda", but released in 1988.

Serbs would later accuse Izetbegovic of wanting to create an Iran-style Muslim republic in Bosnia, a charge which he always denied.

Izetbegovic inspecting troops
Izetbegovic became a a war leader
Western diplomats, on the other hand, said that he was urbane and thoughful, wrestling with policies which would allow his country to remain both true to its Islamic background as well as to its place as a European nation.

Two years later he became Bosnian president.

As Yugoslavia began disintegrating, Mr Izetbegovic worked desperately to preserve the country. But Croats and Serbs were sharpening their knives, preparing to carve up Bosnia.

Mr Izetbegovic went for independence, which was backed in a referendum, in turn igniting a war which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

The Serbs are blamed for the lion's share of the killing, but they argue the Bosnians, under Mr Izetbegovic's supreme command, were guilty of atrocities and have been pressing the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to indict him.

'Dedo'

Mr Izetbegovic became an international figure during the conflict, when his capital Sarajevo was besieged for years by Bosnian Serb forces.

He led his Muslim-dominated government from sandbagged buildings in the city centre, symbolising the government's defiance in the war.

Many Bosnian Muslims call him "dedo" (grandpa) for his "father of the nation" role.

In 1995, he was among the signatories of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the war and split Bosnia between Serb and the Bosnian Muslim/Croatian confederation.

He became the Muslim member of the joint presidency until his retirement.




SEE ALSO:
Bosnia's war legacy
03 Apr 02  |  Crossing Continents
Izetbegovic steps down
14 Oct 00  |  Europe
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
10 Sep 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
01 Oct 03  |  Country profiles


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