How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 59 / Europe & Central Asia

Kosovo: The Road To Peace

While last spring saw conflict erupt in Kosovo's central Drenica region when Serbian security forces attacked and killed residents of the villages of Prekaz and Likoshan, this spring brings the possibility of peace.

I. Executive Summary

While last spring saw conflict erupt in Kosovo's central Drenica region when Serbian security forces attacked and killed residents of the villages of Prekaz and Likoshan, this spring brings the possibility of peace.  The proposed deployment of a 28,000-strong international force for Kosovo will dramatically and immediately halt the sporadic low-intensity battles between Serbian security forces and ethnic Albanian rebels that have displaced 300,000 people.  This peace will allow refugees to return to their homes, and provide the day-to-day sense of security on the ground that will enable Kosovo's transition to self-government.

Since the October 1998 cease-fire, fewer than 1,000 unarmed civilian verifiers in Kosovo have won over the trust of much of Kosovo's population, assisted displaced people, helped communities get water, heat and electricity turned back on, negotiated the release of kidnapped people, monitored court trials, intervened in disputes, and provided Kosovo's population with an underlying sense that the international community is engaged.  However, these monitors have lacked the muscle to enforce the cease-fire, and have been forced at times to witness killings, mass displacements, and even massacres.

What 1,000 unarmed monitors could not do alone, 28,000 armed international forces should be able to easily accomplish.  The international force proposed for Kosovo, with its overwhelming firepower and troop strength, will provide the security necessary for peace to take root, and will enable Kosovars to confidently rebuild their lives and communities.  What is more, the ratio of NATO troops to local combatants in Kosovo will be more than three times higher than it was in Bosnia, where not a single NATO soldier has been killed by a hostile act, despite the alarms put out by governments about the danger of the assignment.[fn]In Bosnia, 60,000 NATO-led forces were deployed to disarm approximately 500,000 fighters from the warring factions (Bosnian Serbs, Croats, and Muslims).  In Kosovo, western analysts estimate there are 35,000 Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers – all but 7,000 part-time irregulars; analysts estimate there are 30,000 Serbian security forces and paramilitary police.  Therefore the proposed 30,000-strong NATO force for Kosovo would face approximately 75,000 local combatants, many of them already decommissioned.Hide Footnote  In addition, the vast majority of Kosovo Liberation Army soldiers are not full-time soldiers but irregulars who are eager to go back to their farms; and the majority of the Serbian security forces in Kosovo are to quickly withdraw from the province under the Rambouillet agreement, leaving only 2,500 active soldiers in all of Kosovo.

Given these facts, as well as because the overwhelming majority of Kosovo's population dearly want NATO troops to come, NATO's task in Kosovo will be easier than in Bosnia, where three and a half years of war killed 200,000 people and displaced more than a million.  In Kosovo, the dimensions of the conflict are smaller: some 2,000 people have been killed in one year of fighting that has displaced 300,000.

Drawing on lessons learned from the international community’s efforts to implement the Dayton Peace Accords in Bosnia, this report aims to highlight key issues international actors in Kosovo should keep in mind as they implement the peace plan for Kosovo.

It is essential that the NATO-led peace force for Kosovo interpret ambiguities in its mandate in favour of a robust NATO role, so that the work of unarmed civilian agencies is not obstructed by hostile local parties.  In particular, ICG urges NATO to actively back up the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) as it attempts to oversee the conduct of the 2,500 Serbian police permitted to stay in Kosovo for up to two years.

The experience of many people who worked in Bosnia in the immediate post-conflict period has convinced them that if NATO had chosen to take a more forceful approach there, and had moved more quickly to support the international civilian agencies as they worked to fulfil their tasks, key aspects of the peace process that have stalled in Bosnia would have succeeded long ago.  The reluctance of NATO commanders in Bosnia to undertake what they originally considered “policing” duties led to an enforcement gap in which ethnic cleansing continued, war criminals flourished, tens of thousands of Serbs fled the Sarajevo suburbs, and a million refugees were prevented from returning to their homes because of continued ethnic hostility and violence.  These setbacks haunt the Bosnian peace process to this day and have contributed to a situation which prevents NATO forces from withdrawing from Bosnia.

With those lessons in mind, and with the knowledge of the Kosovo conflict and its history, ICG recommends that NATO and the international community focus on five key areas of the Kosovo peace process:

  • ICG strongly recommends that NATO and the OSCE KVM strictly enforce the rapid withdrawal of Serbian security forces from Kosovo.  These forces have been responsible for the vast majority of the killing, destruction, and war crimes committed in Kosovo over the past year and have stayed on in Kosovo in massive numbers in violation of the October 1998 cease-fire agreement.[fn]R. Jeffrey Smith reported in the Washington Post (“NATO, Serbs Came Close to Conflict”, 4 March 1999): “Recent movements by Yugoslav forces have alarmed Western officials, who fear they could spark additional fighting. Fifteen Yugoslav army companies, averaging about 100 soldiers each, have deployed in more than a dozen Kosovo towns in what Western officials say is a violation of an agreement reached last October between Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark…to restrict army deployments to six major cities…The Belgrade government has [also] bolstered its special Interior Ministry police units in Kosovo with an undetermined number of additional men… It also has moved in additional armored personnel carriers and double-barreled Praga 30mm anti-aircraft guns, a weapon typically used here to fire at civilians' homes”.Hide Footnote
     
  • NATO should move to close the enforcement gap by actively assisting civilian agencies such as the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission in implementing key tasks they cannot do on their own, such as overseeing the 2,500 Serbian police allowed to stay in Kosovo for up to two years while a new ethnically representative Kosovo police force is recruited and trained.
     
  • NATO, the OSCE KVM, and international NGOs should take a proactive role in protecting human and minority rights.  In this regard, they should work closely with Kosovo Serb leaders to develop a strategy for preventing an exodus of Kosovo’s Serb minority, and should secure the release of and amnesty for all ethnic Albanians still in detention on charges related to “terrorism”.
     
  • NATO should discourage an atmosphere of continued violence and revenge killings by actively assisting the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) by escorting Tribunal investigators, protecting alleged war crimes sites, and arresting and transporting war crimes suspects to The Hague.
     
  • Until NATO and the OSCE KVM have created a secure environment in Kosovo, post-conflict assistance programs will not succeed and elections should not go forward.

Pristina - Washington, 12 March 1999 

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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