Former Bosnian army general Jovan Divjak, who defended Sarajevo during an infamous 44-month siege, died on Thursday in the Bosnian capital aged 84, his organisation said.

Divjak was one of the very few ethnic Serbs to fight for the Bosnian army during the devastating 1990s inter-communal conflict that ripped the former Yugoslavia apart.

Champion of a multi-ethnic Bosnia, Divjak died after a "long illness", his organisation said.

When the conflict broke out in Sarajevo in April 1992, Divjak, a retired Yugoslav army officer, was a member of Bosnia's territorial defence forces.

He immediately joined the ranks of those defending Sarajevo, which was besieged for nearly four years.

At least 10,000 residents of the city were killed during the war.

"It was natural to be with those who were attacked, who did not have weapons.", Divjak told AFP in 2017, rejecting the "good Serb" label.

Divjak was one of very few ethnic Serbs to fight on the side of the Bosnian army
Divjak was one of very few ethnic Serbs to fight on the side of the Bosnian army AFP / ELVIS BARUKCIC

"The idea of a multi-ethnic Bosnian army had won me over," he added.

However, disappointed by the grandiose funeral organised after the conflict for a Sarajevo thug suspected of having summarily executed Serbs, he renounced his rank of general in 1999.

After that, Divjak devoted himself entirely to his association, which granted thousands of scholarships to orphans and also to children from poor families.

He was awarded the Legion of Honour by France in 2001 for "his civic sense, his refusal of prejudice and ethnic discrimination".

To his death, Divjak remained fiercely anti-nationalist. His role in the war was badly viewed by most Bosnian Serbs who considered him a "traitor".

Serbia demanded Divjak's extradition over a 1992 attack on a retreating Yugoslav army convoy in Sarajevo.

The ex-general denied the allegations and insisted that he ordered the shooting to stop, a claim that seems to be backed up by television footage from the time.