Bloodshed in the Balkans

January 9: The final decade of the 20th century began to look chillingly like the last decade of the 19th century. Trouble was brewing in the Balkans and Serb leader Radovan Karazic declared a new Bosnian Serb republic.

Former Yugoslavia was breaking up. Germany had recognised Croatia as an independent state and the Serbs were fearful that Bosnia would become a new state under Muslim and Croat control. The Serbs made up one-third of Bosnia's population but controlled most of the military hardware.

By April armed guards were posted throughout Sarajevo, the capital where Serbian nationalism had provided the 1914 spark for the First World War. Three months later the city was under siege by surrounding Serb forces. Life in Sarajevo became a wretched battle for survival with mortars and shells striking at the city centre and Serb snipers picking off unwary citizens.

United Nations forces haggled and bullied their way to Sarajevo Airport and opened it for an emergency airlift. The first RAF Hercules arrived on July 3 but, although Sarajevo could breathe again, the war was far from over.

Stephanie SlaterJanuary 30: Kidnap victim Stephanie Slater's eight-day nightmare came to an end after she was dumped at 1am just a few hundred yards from her Great Barr home. The 25-year-old spoke of her "sheer absolute terror" at the hands of her kidnapper who got away with a 175,000 ransom.

Stephanie was seized by a chisel-wielding man as she showed him round a house and spent part of her time in captivity blindfolded. Her kidnapper told her estate agent bosses he would kill her if the ransom was not paid. After being dumped, Stephanie walked to her home and threw herself into the arms of her parents.

During the kidnap, newspapers, TV and radio bosses agreed to a news black-out to give the police the chance to to run a massive undercover operation. The ransom was paid in a rural part of the north of England after her boss spent six hours criss-crossing the country.

March 14: The Earth Summit ended with world leaders agreed in principle on the need to save the planet but showing little practical commitment. The United States emerged as the villain of the peace, declining to sign the biodiversity treaty to protect rare and endangered species. The leaders of the 152 other countries disagreed and signed.

On the other hand the US did put its name to a document aimed at reducing the emission of gases thought to damage the ozone layer and cause global warming. Delegates also agreed on a system of environmental aid to help developing countries avoid the over-exploitation of their natural resources.

June 24: Cigarette companies expected a flood of legal claims in the United States following the successful claim by the family of a life-long smoker. The action was brought by the family of Rose Cipollone who died from lung cancer after 42 years of smoking. At least 400,000 deaths in the US alone were believed to be smoking-related.

April 30: Riots swept Los Angeles following the acquittal of the four white policemen who beat up black motorist Rodney King. The death toll rose to 30 within 24 hours as arson and violence raged. Shops were looted and motorists pulled from their cars and attacked. Racial violence spread to the heart of Hollywood and rioting was reported in other US cities.

Mayor Tom Bradley made an urgent plea for an extra 4,000 troops as President Bush called a crisis meeting of military advisors. Curfews were imposed in San Francisco, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Altogether some 900 people were injured in the rioting. The dead were mostly men aged 15 to 45.


In brief

January 1. Egyptian diplomat Butros Butros Ghali became sixth United Nations Secretary General.

February 10. Disgraced boxer Mike Tyson was convicted of raping a beauty queen and jailed for six years.

February 21. France's oldest citizen celebrated her 117th birthday in Arles, where she knew Van Gogh.

April 9. John Major was re-elected as Prime Minister.

April 12. Euro Disney opened in France.

June 4. Faced with thousands of empty places Wolverhampton unveiled controversial plans to close three secondary schools.

  June 29. After three weeks of bone-dry weather, Midland farmers were urged to use less water.

July 10. General Noriega of Panama was sentenced in Miami to 40 years in prison for drug trafficking offences.

August 15. England saw the launch of the new Premier League of top football clubs.

  October 1. Twenty-five miles of traffic jams on the M6 between Birmingham and Stafford following a lorry blaze near Walsall.

October 4. A Boeing 747 crashed in Amsterdam killing 150.

October 12. In Egypt, 540 died when an earthquake tore Cairo apart.

October 8. Dudley comedian Lenny Henry revealed that his adopted daughter, Billie, had been baptised at a private family service to avoid a media "circus."

October 20. Dudley school meals were set to rise to £1 per day making them the most expensive in the West Midlands.

October 26. In a row over safety and maintenance, West Midlands Travel was ordered to have all its 1,800 vehicles MoT tested.

November 3. Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States.

December 8. A Hindu temple in West Bromwich was destroyed by fire and two others, in Coventry and Birmingham, were damaged. Police feared that religious violence in India was spilling into Britain.