Ireland grants a divorce for the first time in the country’s history


Year
1997
Month Day
January 17

The Republic of Ireland legally grants a divorce for the first time following a 1995 referendum. The first divorce in Ireland, granted to a terminally ill man who wished to marry his new partner, was a harbinger of the decline of the Catholic Church’s power over the Republic.

The Irish Constitution of 1937 specifically forbade divorce. Though the constitution prohibits the state from adopting an official religion, Ireland is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and the original document contained many elements of Catholic doctrine. The Church played an outsized role in Irish public life, even by the standards of other heavily Catholic countries. Italy, for example, had legalized divorce by 1970. In 1986, the Irish government put the issue up to a nationwide referendum, but 63.5 percent voted against amending the constitution. A law allowing legal separation passed in 1989. After coming to power in 1994, a “Rainbow Coalition” government composed of center-left parties one again propagated a referendum on amending the constitution to allow divorce.

Both Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa publicly endorsed the “No” side, a sign of the seriousness with which the Church opposed this perceived challenge to its authority. Nonetheless, the Church conceded that it would not be a sin for Catholics to vote “Yes.” Ultimately, the “Yes” campaign ran up huge numbers in urban areas, winning by the razor-thin margin of 50.3 percent to 49.7. Numerous attempts were made to challenge the result, but to no avail.

Although the 1995 referendum only legalized divorce in cases where couples had been separated for at least four years, proponents of the separation of church and state hailed it as a victory to build upon.

“We’re bringing Ireland into the 20 Century at the dawn of the 21,” said Mags O’Brien, a pro-divorce campaigner. Similarly “overdue” reforms would follow. 2015 saw the legalization of same-sex marriage with 61 percent of the vote, and 66 percent of voters approved an amendment to legalize abortion in 2018. In 2019, another amendment greatly relaxed the requirements for obtaining a legal divorce, doing away with the period of separation. 

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The euro debuts


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Year
1999
Month Day
January 04

New Year’s Day is the dawn of a new era in Europe, as 11 nations adopt a single currency, the euro. Now the official currency of 19 members of the European Union, as well as the nations of Kosovo and Montenegro, the euro’s introduction had a profound effect on the global economy and was a watershed moment in the continent’s history.

Beginning in the 1970s, European leaders had discussed creating a single currency. The plan became official with 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which formed the European Union and paved the way for the creation of a single European currency. The new currency’s name was unveiled in 1995. On December 31, 1998 11 countries “locked in” their exchange rates relative to each other and to the euro. At midnight, their currencies officially ceased to exist. For the next three years, the “legacy currencies” remained legal tender, but electronic transfers and other non-physical monetary transactions began to use euros. Greece would join the Eurozone between this initial introduction and the currency’s debut in physical form.

Mints throughout Europe printed 7.4 billion notes and struck 38.2 billion coins to ensure enough euros would be available by 1/1/2002. Banks issued “starter packs” containing small amounts of euros starting in December 2001 to familiarize people with the new money. Finally, a year later, the euro formally entered the world as legal tender. The first official purchase took place on the far-flung French island of Réunion, where euros were used to purchase a pound of lychees. Over the next two months, participating nations officially had two currencies in order to give people time to adjust. Businesses advertised prices both in euros and in legacy currencies, and some were accused of using the switch as an excuse to raise prices. Overall, however, the process of creating a new currency for a population of over 300 million people went remarkably smoothly.

The euro has long been a source of controversy. Conservatives in the United Kingdom opposed the idea of a European currency, and both the UK and Denmark negotiated opt-outs despite their membership in the EU. The eurozone’s greatest test came during the European sovereign debt crisis, which began in 2009, as many central banks dealing in euros were unable to pay their debts and were bailed out by other eurozone nations or EU institutions. Despite continued concerns, seven EU nations have met the criteria and acceded to the euro since 2002, and the nations of Kosovo and Montenegro have also adopted it as their official currency.

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Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surrenders to U.S.


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Year
1990
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces. He became the country’s de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause,” and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured.

Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed “Pineapple Face” in reference to his pockmarked skin, died in Panama City, Panama, on May 29, 2017.

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Russian forces enter Chechnya


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Year
1994
Month Day
December 11

In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.

About the size of Connecticut and located in southeastern Russia on the Caspian Sea, Chechnya was conquered by the Russians in the 1850s as the Russian empire pushed south toward the Middle East. Its people are largely Muslim and fiercely independent, and the region has been a constant irritant to its Russian and Soviet rulers.

In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.

After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared. In 1997, the last humiliated Russian troops left Chechnya. Despite a peace agreement that left Chechnya a de facto independent state, Chechnya remained officially part of Russia.

In 1999, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya after bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen militants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s handpicked successor as Russian leader, said of the Chechen terrorists, “we will rub them out, even in the toilet.” In 2000, President Putin escalated Russian military involvement in Chechnya after terrorist bombings in Russian cities continued. In this second round of post-Soviet fighting in Chechnya, the Russian army has been accused of many atrocities in its efforts to suppress Chechen militancy. A peace agreement remains elusive.

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First NATO Military Action


Year
1994
Month Day
February 28

In the first military action in the 45-year history of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), U.S. fighter planes shoot down four Serbian warplanes engaged in a bombing mission in violation of Bosnia’s no-fly zone.

The United States, 10 European countries, and Canada founded NATO in 1949 as a safeguard against Soviet aggression. With the end of the Cold War, NATO members approved the use of its military forces for peacekeeping missions in countries outside the alliance and in 1994 agreed to enforce U.N. resolutions enacted to bring about an end to the bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia. In 1994 and 1995, NATO planes enforced the no-fly zone over Bosnia-Herzegovina and struck at Bosnian Serb military positions and airfields on a number of occasions.

On December 20, 1995, NATO began the mass deployment of 60,000 troops to enforce the Dayton peace accords, signed in Paris by the leaders of the former Yugoslavia on December 14. The NATO troops took over from a U.N. peacekeeping force that had failed to end the fighting since its deployment in early 1992, although the U.N. troops had proved crucial in the distribution of humanitarian aid to the impoverished population of Bosnia. The NATO force, with its U.S. support and focused aim of enforcing the Dayton agreement, proved more successful in maintaining the peace in the war-torn region.

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NATO bombs Yugoslavia


Year
1999
Month Day
March 24

On March 24, 1999, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) commences air strikes against Yugoslavia with the bombing of Serbian military positions in the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The NATO offensive came in response to a new wave of ethnic cleansing launched by Serbian forces against the Kosovar Albanians on March 20.

The Kosovo region lay at the heart of the Serbian empire in the late Middle Ages but was lost to the Ottoman Turks in 1389 following Serbia’s defeat in the Battle of Kosovo. By the time Serbia regained control of Kosovo from Turkey in 1913, there were few Serbs left in a region that had come to be dominated by ethnic Albanians. In 1918, Kosovo formally became a province of Serbia, and it continued as such after communist leader Josip Broz Tito established the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia in 1945, comprising the Balkan states of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia and Macedonia. However, Tito eventually gave in to Kosovar demands for greater autonomy, and after 1974 Kosovo existed as independent state in all but name.

Serbs came to resent Kosovo’s autonomy, which allowed it to act against Serbian interests, and in 1987 Slobodan Milosevic was elected leader of Serbia’s Communist Party with a promise of restoring Serbian rule to Kosovo. In 1989, Milosevic became president of Serbia and moved quickly to suppress Kosovo, stripping its autonomy and in 1990 sending troops to disband its government. Meanwhile, Serbian nationalism led to the dissolution of the Yugoslav federation in 1991, and in 1992 the Balkan crisis deteriorated into civil war. A new Yugoslav state, consisting only of Serbia and the small state of Montenegro, was created, and Kosovo began four years of nonviolent resistance to Serbian rule.

The militant Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) emerged in 1996 and began attacking Serbian police in Kosovo. With arms obtained in Albania, the KLA stepped up its attacks in 1997, prompting a major offensive by Serbian troops against the rebel-held Drenica region in February-March 1998. Dozens of civilians were killed, and enlistment in the KLA increased dramatically. In July, the KLA launched an offensive across Kosovo, seizing control of nearly half the province before being routed in a Serbian counteroffensive later that summer. The Serbian troops drove thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and were accused of massacring Kosovo civilians.

In October, NATO threatened Serbia with air strikes, and Milosevic agreed to allow the return of tens of thousands of refugees. Fighting soon resumed, however, and talks between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs in Rambouillet, France, in February 1999 ended in failure. On March 18, further peace talks in Paris collapsed after the Serbian delegation refused to sign a deal calling for Kosovo autonomy and the deployment of NATO troops to enforce the agreement. Two days later, the Serbian army launched a new offensive in Kosovo. On March 24, NATO air strikes began.

In addition to Serbian military positions, the NATO air campaign targeted Serbian government buildings and the country’s infrastructure in an effort to destabilize the Milosevic regime. The bombing and continued Serbian offensives drove hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Many of these refugees were airlifted to safety in the United States and other NATO nations. On June 10, the NATO bombardment ended when Serbia agreed to a peace agreement calling for the withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo and their replacement by NATO peacekeeping troops.

With the exception of two U.S. pilots killed in a training mission in Albania, no NATO personnel lost their lives in the 78-day operation. There were some mishaps, however, such as miscalculated bombings that led to the deaths of Kosovar Albanian refugees, KLA members, and Serbian civilians. The most controversial incident was the May 7 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three Chinese journalists and caused a diplomatic crisis in U.S.-Chinese relations.

On June 12, NATO forces moved into Kosovo from Macedonia. The same day, Russian troops arrived in the Kosovo capital of Pristina and forced NATO into agreeing to a joint occupation. Despite the presence of peacekeeping troops, the returning Kosovar Albanians retaliated against Kosovo’s Serbian minority, forcing them to flee into Serbia. Under the NATO occupation, Kosovar autonomy was restored, but the province remained officially part of Serbia.

Slobodan Milosevic was ousted from power by a popular revolution in Belgrade in October 2000. He was replaced by the popularly elected Vojislav Kostunica, a moderate Serbian nationalist who promised to reintegrate Serbia into Europe and the world after a decade of isolation.

Slobodan Milosevic died in prison in the Netherlands on March 11, 2006, during his trial for crimes against humanity and genocide. Due to his death, the court returned no verdict.

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LAPD officers beat Rodney King on camera


Year
1991
Month Day
March 03

At 12:45 a.m. on March 3, 1991, robbery parolee Rodney G. King stops his car after leading police on a nearly 8-mile pursuit through the streets of Los Angeles, California. The chase began after King, who was intoxicated, was caught speeding on a freeway by a California Highway Patrol cruiser but refused to pull over. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cruisers and a police helicopter joined the pursuit, and when King was finally stopped by Hansen Dam Park, several police cars descended on his white Hyundai.

A group of LAPD officers led by Sergeant Stacey Koon ordered King and the other two occupants of the car to exit the vehicle and lie flat on the ground. King’s two friends complied, but King himself was slower to respond, getting on his hands and knees rather than lying flat. Officers Laurence Powell, Timothy Wind, Ted Briseno, and Roland Solano tried to force King down, but he resisted, and the officers stepped back and shot King twice with an electric stun gun known as a Taser, which fires darts carrying a charge of 50,000 volts.

At this moment, civilian George Holliday, standing on a balcony in an apartment complex across the street, focused the lens of his new video camera on the commotion unfolding by Hansen Dam Park. In the first few seconds of what would become a very famous 89-second video, King is seen rising after the Taser shots and running in the direction of Officer Powell. The officers alleged that King was charging Powell, while King himself later claimed that an officer told him, “We’re going to kill you, n*****. Run!” and he tried to flee. All the arresting officers were white, along with all but one of the other two dozen or so law enforcement officers present at the scene. With the roar of a helicopter above, very few commands or remarks are audible in the video.

With King running in his direction, Powell swung his baton, hitting him on the side of the head and knocking him to the ground. This action was captured by the video, but the next 10 seconds were blurry as Holliday shifted the camera. From the 18- to 30-second mark in the video, King attempted to rise, and Powell and Wind attacked him with a torrent of baton blows that prevented him from doing so. From the 35- to 51-second mark, Powell administered repeated baton blows to King’s lower body. At 55 seconds, Powell struck King on the chest, and King rolled over and lay prone. At that point, the officers stepped back and observed King for about 10 seconds. Powell began to reach for his handcuffs.

At 65 seconds on the video, Officer Briseno stepped roughly on King’s upper back or neck, and King’s body writhed in response. Two seconds later, Powell and Wind again began to strike King with a series of baton blows, and Wind kicked him in the neck six times until 86 seconds into the video. At about 89 seconds, King put his hands behind his back and was handcuffed.

Sergeant Koon never made an effort to stop the beating, and only one of the many officers present briefly intervened, raising his left arm in front of a baton-swinging colleague in the opening moments of the videotape, to no discernible effect. An ambulance was called, and King was taken to the hospital. Struck as many as 56 times with the batons, he suffered a fractured leg, multiple facial fractures, and numerous bruises and contusions. Unaware that the arrest was videotaped, the officers downplayed the level of violence used to arrest King and filed official reports in which they claimed he suffered only cuts and bruises “of a minor nature.”

George Holliday sold his video of the beating to the local television station, KTLA, which broadcast the footage and sold it to the national Cable News Network (CNN). The widely broadcast video caused outrage around the country and triggered a national debate on police brutality. Rodney King was released without charges, and on March 15 Sergeant Koon and officers Powell, Wind, and Briseno were indicted by a Los Angeles grand jury in connection with the beating. All four were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and excessive use of force by a police officer. Though Koon did not actively participate in the beating, as the commanding officer he was charged with aiding and abetting it. Powell and Koon were also charged with filing false reports.

Because of the uproar in Los Angeles surrounding the incident, the judge, Stanley Weisberg, was persuaded to move the trial outside Los Angeles County to Simi Valley in Ventura County. On April 29, 1992, the 12-person jury issued its verdicts: not guilty on all counts, except for one assault charge against Powell that ended in a hung jury. The acquittals touched off the L.A. riots, and arson, looting, murder and assaults in the city grew into the most destructive U.S. civil disturbance of the 20th century. In three days of violence, more than 60 people were killed, more than 2,000 were injured, and nearly $1 billion in property was destroyed. On May 1, President George H.W. Bush ordered military troops and riot-trained federal officers to Los Angeles to quell the riot.

Under federal law, the officers could also be prosecuted for violating Rodney King’s constitutional rights, and on April 17, 1993, a federal jury convicted Koon and Powell for violating King’s rights by their unreasonable use of force under color of law. Although Wind and Briseno were acquitted, most civil rights advocates considered the mixed verdict a victory. On August 4, Koon and Powell were sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for the beating of King. King received $3.8 million in a civil suit against the Los Angeles police department. On June 17, 2012, King died at his home in Rialto, California.

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The Persian Gulf War begins


Year
1991
Month Day
January 16

At midnight in Iraq, the United Nations deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires, and the Pentagon prepares to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor. 

At 4:30 p.m. EST, the first fighter aircraft were launched from Saudi Arabia and off U.S. and British aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf on bombing missions over Iraq. All evening, aircraft from the U.S.-led military coalition pounded targets in and around Baghdad as the world watched the events transpire in television footage transmitted live via satellite from Baghdad and elsewhere. At 7:00 p.m., Operation Desert Storm, the code-name for the massive U.S.-led offensive against Iraq, was formally announced at the White House.

The operation was conducted by an international coalition under the command of U.S. General Norman Schwarzkopf and featured forces from 32 nations, including Britain, Egypt, France, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait. During the next six weeks, the allied force engaged in a massive air war against Iraq’s military and civil infrastructure, and encountered little effective resistance from the Iraqi air force or air defenses. Iraqi ground forces were helpless during this stage of the war, and Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s only significant retaliatory measure was the launching of SCUD missile attacks against Israel and Saudi Arabia. Saddam hoped that the missile attacks would provoke Israel to enter the conflict, thus dissolving Arab support of the war. At the request of the United States, however, Israel remained out of the war.

On February 24, a massive coalition ground offensive began, and Iraq’s outdated and poorly supplied armed forces were rapidly overwhelmed. Kuwait was liberated in less than four days, and a majority of Iraq’s armed forces surrendered, retreated into Iraq, or were destroyed. On February 28, President George H.W. Bush declared a cease-fire, and Iraq pledged to honor future coalition and U.N. peace terms. One hundred and twenty-five American soldiers were killed in the Persian Gulf War, with another 21 regarded as missing in action.

On March 20, 2003, a second war between Iraq and a U.S.-led coalition began, this time with the stated U.S. objective of removing Saddam Hussein from power and, ostensibly, finding and destroying the country’s weapons of mass destruction. Hussein was captured by a U.S. military unit on December 13, 2003 and was executed three years later. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. 

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Walesa elected president of Poland


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Year
1990
Month Day
December 09

In Poland, Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity trade union, wins a landslide election victory, becoming the first directly elected Polish leader.

Walesa, born in 1943, was an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk when he was fired for union agitation in 1976. When protests broke out in the Gdansk shipyard over an increase in food prices in August 1980, Walesa climbed the shipyard fence and joined the thousands of workers inside. He was elected leader of the strike committee, and three days later the strikers’ demands were met. Walesa then helped coordinate other strikes in Gdansk and demanded that the Polish government allow the free formation of trade unions and the right to strike. On August 30, the government conceded to the strikers’ demands, legalizing trade unionism and granting greater freedom of religious and political expression.

Millions of Polish workers and farmers came together to form unions, and Solidarity was formed as a national federation of unions, with Walesa as its chairman. Under Walesa’s charismatic leadership, the organization grew in size and political influence, soon becoming a major threat to the authority of the Polish government. On December 13, 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, Solidarity was outlawed, and Walesa and other labor leaders were arrested.

In November 1982, overwhelming public outcry forced Walesa’s release, but Solidarity remained illegal. In 1983, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fearing involuntary exile, he declined to travel to Norway to accept the award. Walesa continued as leader of the now-underground Solidarity movement, and he was subjected to continual monitoring and harassment by the Communist authorities.

In 1988, deteriorating economic conditions led to a new wave of labor strikes across Poland, and the government was forced to negotiate with Walesa. In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized, and its members were allowed to enter a limited number of candidates in upcoming elections. By September, a Solidarity-led government coalition was in place, with Walesa’s colleague Tadeusz Mazowiecki as premier. In 1990, Poland’s first direct presidential election was held, and Walesa won by a landslide.

President Walesa successfully implemented free-market reforms, but unfortunately he was a far more effective labor leader than president. In 1995, he was narrowly defeated in his reelection by former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance.

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NATO assumes peacekeeping duties in Bosnia


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Year
1995
Month Day
December 20

During a brief military ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, French General Bernard Janvier, head of the United Nations peacekeeping force, formally transfers military authority in Bosnia to U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Southern Europe.

The solemn ceremony cleared the path for the deployment of 60,000 NATO troops to enforce the Dayton Peace Accords, signed in Paris by the leaders of the former Yugoslavia on December 14. The U.S.-backed peace plan was proposed during talks in Dayton, Ohio, earlier in the year and was reluctantly accepted by the last of the belligerent parties in November, ending four years of bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which cost more than 200,000 lives.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission to Bosnia began in early 1992, shortly after the war erupted over efforts by the Bosnian Serbs to achieve independence from Bosnia-Herzegovina and unite with Serbia. Although the U.N. force was crucial in distributing humanitarian aid to the impoverished population of Bosnia, it was unable to stop the fighting. Approximately 25,000 U.N. peacekeepers served in Bosnia over three and a half years, and during that time 110 of those were killed, 831 wounded, and hundreds taken hostage.

The NATO force, with its strong U.S. support and focused aim of enforcing the Dayton agreement, was more successful in bringing stability to the war-torn region.

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