Kosovo Conflict History
Serbia and Montenegro took control of the Kosovo area by force of arms from a crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1912, and gained sovereignty over it in the 1912-1913 London Ambassadors Conference. Medieval Serbia had lost Kosovo to the Ottomans in 1389; Serbia gradually regained its own independence between 1817 and 1878, the Kosovo myth becoming central to its new national consciousness. By 1912 Albanians comprised at least half Kosovo’s population. Despite the introduction of Serb settlers and other attempts to bolster the Serb population and encourage Albanian emigration during the two Yugoslav periods, the Albanian majority in Kosovo continued to rise through the twentieth century.
In a liberalising Yugoslavia, the 1974 constitution granted Kosovo autonomy and the status of a federal unit, though still within the Serbian republic. The majority Albanians were emancipated and took over the province’s administration. Yet, pressure upon resources from an economic downturn and fast-growing population formed the background to riots by Albanian students in 1981, with demands that Kosovo’s status be upgraded to a republic. Yugoslav security forces re-established a stronger grip over the province. Through the 1980s thousands of Albanians were imprisoned for alleged subversion; anti-Albanian sentiment stoked rising Serbian nationalism, which Slobodan Milosevic used to take over Serbia’s leadership, staging a vast rally of Serbs in Kosovo to mark the 600th anniversary of the 1389 Battle of Kosovo Field.
Milosevic clamped down in Kosovo with heavy security forces and revoked the province’s autonomy. Under “emergency measures”, Albanians were expelled en masse from state institutions. They responded by self-declaring a Kosovo republic, electing a president (Ibrahim Rugova) and organising a parallel education system. In 1991-1992 the Badinter Arbitration Committee appointed by the EU to decide its state recognition guidelines in the former Yugoslavia ruled that republics should have the right of self-determination: Kosovo and Vojvodina, the two autonomous federal units suppressed by Milosevic, did not make the grade. Kosovo was also bypassed in the 1995 Dayton talks, which decreed a settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina; this deprived the Kosovo Albanian peaceful resistance of any realistic hope of outside help. By the late 1990s, Serbs and Montenegrins had dropped to 15 per cent of Kosovo’s population.
Attacks in rural areas by a small, clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) formed by Kosovo Albanian radicals brought heavy retaliation by Serbian security forces; fighting mushroomed across the Kosovo countryside through 1998, leaving 300,000 Albanians homeless by October, when a ceasefire was agreed and an international OSCE monitoring mission inserted.
As fighting resumed in February, the six-nation Contact Group (U.S., UK, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) summoned both sides to talks in Rambouillet, France, and proposed they sign an Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo: autonomy with NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR) inserted and Serbian forces (except for some border guards) withdrawn or demilitarised. The draft accord provided for an international meeting after three years to determine a mechanism for a Kosovo final settlement, “on the basis of the will of the people, opinions of relevant authorities, each Party’s efforts regarding the implementation of this Agreement, and the Helsinki Final Act”. The Albanians signed on the understanding this meant they could hold a referendum on independence after three years; Belgrade declined.
With Serbia continuing its brutal use of force against the Kosovo Albanians, NATO launched a bombing campaign over Kosovo and rump Yugoslavia in March 1999, without specific UNSC authorisation. After 78 days Milosevic capitulated, agreeing to admit KFOR into Kosovo and withdraw his forces. Prior to this, from March to June, Serbia drove more than 800,000 Kosovo Albanians as refugees into neighbouring Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro – nearly half of Kosovo’s Albanian population – and displaced hundreds of thousands more from their homes inside Kosovo. Serbian forces destroyed tens of thousands of homes and many mosques, embarked upon mass looting and rape, and murdered several thousand people.
In June the UNSC passed Resolution 1244, mandating KFOR’s presence and a UN interim administration (UNMIK) to establish and oversee Kosovo provisional democratic institutions of self-government within a framework of Yugoslav sovereignty, pending a final settlement which was to take full account of the Rambouillet accords.
Tens of thousands of Serbs fled Kosovo in mid-1999, fearing reprisals as Albanians returned. A wave of murders, kidnappings and other crimes were perpetrated against Serbs by Albanians through early 2000 as KFOR and UN police failed to enforce authority adequately.
UNMIK promulgated a Constitutional Framework, enabling parliamentary elections, appointment of a president and provisional government (PISG). It demarcated the spheres of UNMIK’s fundamental “reserved” powers from those that could be transferred to the PISG.
With a provisional government formed, UNMIK chief Steiner created the “Standards before Status” policy as a stopgap local mission response to Kosovo Albanian demands for international community clarity as the notional Rambouillet three-year deadline passed.
The Contact Group revived after several years of dormancy, agreeing in November to make “Standards before Status” operational with a range of benchmarks to be achieved; if the provisional government’s progress warranted it, there would be a review of final status in mid-2005.
In March Albanian insecurity exploded into two days of Kosovo-wide mob attacks on Serb communities and UNMIK. UNMIK finally got its “Standards before Status” policy operational two weeks later, its spirit already utterly violated by the riots. The risk of renewed violent collapse and the concept of earned independence have driven the status process in uneasy tandem in the three years since. In July UN Special Envoy Kai Eide recommended more transfers of power to the PISG and beginning discussion of future status by the UN; new UNMIK chief Soren Jessen-Petersen made getting Kosovo to the beginning of a status process his priority. The Contact Group gave Kosovo a crucial reassuring signal in September; it “would not return to the situation prevailing there before March 1999”, i.e. no return to Serbian rule. In November UNMIK allowed the provisional government three more ministries.
In April the Contact Group excluded the partition of Kosovo or its union with any other country (i.e. Albania) in its status resolution. Kosovo’s implementation of the Standards was judged sufficient for the status review to proceed. UN envoy Kai Eide reported in October that the rule of law was insufficiently entrenched, foundations for a multi-ethnic society had not been created, and Serbia had undermined Standards implementation by marshalling a partial Serb boycott of the provisional institutions. He proposed that Serb-majority municipalities have additional powers and links with Belgrade as a partial remedy and concluded that there was nothing to gain in further delaying a process to settle Kosovo’s status.
In October the UN Secretary General appointed former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari to lead this process. In November the Security Council endorsed the Contact Group’s “Guiding Principles” for the settlement: “Once the process has started, it cannot be blocked and must be brought to a conclusion”, and the final decision “should be endorsed by the UN Security Council”. On the substance of the settlement the ten principles were that it should 1) comply with international legal standards and contribute to regional security; 2) conform to European standards and assist Kosovo and the region’s integration into the EU and NATO; 3) ensure sustainable multi-ethnicity; 4) provide mechanisms for all communities to participate in central and local government, using decentralisation to facilitate coexistence and equity; 5) include specific safeguards for protection of Serb religious sites; 6) strengthen regional security by excluding Kosovo’s partition or union with any other country; 7) ensure both Kosovo’s security and that it does not pose a threat to neighbours; 8) strengthen Kosovo’s ability to enforce the rule of law, fight terrorism and organised crime, and safeguard multi-ethnicity in the police and judiciary; 9) ensure Kosovo’s sustainable economic and political development and its effective cooperation with international organisations and international financial institutions; 10) specify an international civilian and military presence “for some time” to supervise implementation of the status settlement, ensure security and the protection of minorities, and support and monitor Kosovo’s continued implementation of standards.
In November the European Commission in effect separated its annual progress reports on Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, signalling their separate accession tracks. In December it decided to absorb the UN Standards into a European Partnership with Kosovo. The EU Council and Commission began planning post-status mission presences in Kosovo and stipulated that the status settlement should grant Kosovo treaty-making powers. In December UNMIK created the shells of future provisional government interior and justice ministries.
In January Contact Group ministers further elaborated their joint position, specifying that “all possible efforts should be made to achieve a negotiated settlement in the course of 2006” and that it must “be acceptable to the people of Kosovo”. They emphasised the value of decentralisation to ensure minority communities’ future and as an “impetus to the return of displaced persons who should be able to choose where they live in Kosovo” (few of the tens of thousands of Serbs who fled Kosovo have returned, despite this being one of the Standards benchmarks).
The ministers emphasised that the specificity of the Kosovo problem “shaped by the disintegration of Yugoslavia and consequent conflicts, ethnic cleansing and the events of 1999, and the extended period of international administration under UNSCR 1244, must be taken into account in settling Kosovo’s status”. The ministers reminded Belgrade that its “disastrous policies of the past lie at the heart of the current problems”. In August Ahtisaari was attacked by Serbian officials and media for elaborating this Contact Group position; he explained that Serbia’s leaders must come to terms with the Milosevic legacy, that it cannot be ignored and must be taken into account in determining Kosovo’s status. The episode highlighted Serbia’s unwillingness to acknowledge and apologise for the repression and atrocities perpetrated against Kosovo’s Albanian majority; instead, anti-Albanian rhetoric and incitements have remained staples of Serbian officialdom and media.
The EU Council advanced its plans for post-status mission presences, establishing planning teams in Kosovo for a rule of law (ESDP) mission, and an International Civilian Office (ICO)/EU Special Representative (EUSR) office. NATO concluded in favour of allowing and overseeing the establishment of a small, lightly equipped Kosovo Security Force and fed this into the emerging Ahtisaari Proposal.
From February through September Ahtisaari’s office (UNOSEK) engaged the negotiating teams of Kosovo and Serbia in several rounds of direct talks in Vienna and mounted a number of expert missions to both capitals. With possibilities for the sides to agree exhausted, Ahtisaari readied his proposal for release in November but agreed to delay it until after Serbia’s elections, announced for 21 January 2007.
Ahtisaari unveiled his 63-page Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement to both Serbia’s and Kosovo’s leaders on 2 February. Later in February, UNOSEK held two weeks of meetings between Kosovo and Serbia negotiators from which it refined a revised version of the Proposal, which it circulated before a final 10 March meeting of Kosovo’s and Serbia’s leaders. With this, Ahtisaari announced that the fourteen-month process, comprising seventeen rounds of direct talks in Vienna and 26 expert missions to Serbia and Kosovo, was over. He forwarded the Proposal to the UN Secretariat, together with a four-page report defining Kosovo’s political status. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon forwarded these to the Security Council on 26 March, expressing his full support for both documents. The Security Council heard Ahtisaari’s presentation on 3 April and dispatched a fact-finding mission to Serbia and Kosovo on 25-28 April.
After the UN Security Council was unable to agree on a resolution backing supervised independence, the six-nation Contact Group’s ‘Troika’ – the EU, U.S. and Russia – started a new round of negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade. Talks ended on 10 December without a compromise status settlement; at a 14 December summit, EU leaders discussed preparations to proceed towards supervised independence based on the Ahtisaari plan and the deployment of a 1,800-strong EU security and rule of law mission.
Kosovo declared independence on 17 February, confirming its acceptance of the Ahtisaari plan, its willingness for the EU to deploy new missions and for NATO to keep its force there. In Serbia, independence was met with street violence and government disunity – its coalition government fell on 10 March. South of the River Ibar, Serbs have protested peacefully. In north Mitrovica and the compactly Serb-settled territory above it, reactions have been more militant.
The members of the “Quint” – France, Germany, Italy, the UK and U.S., many other EU states and countries further afield are in the process of recognising Kosovo’s independence amid continued Serbian and Russian objection. The EU approved a three pronged mission deployment (EULEX) on 18 February, to include a rule of law mission, EU special representative (EUSR) and civilian office, and a development and reform commission unit. Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith has been appointed as the EUSR, and EULEX will be deployed over a transition period of 120 days.