Kosovo Background

Kosovo's border with Albania runs along a ridge of mountains, punctuated by passes and river valleys, from Macedonia to Montenegro. Within Kosovo there are 5 basins: in the north, Kosovo Polje (500 square kilometers); in the west, Metohija (600 square kilometers); northeast, Little Kosovo (80 square kilometers); east, the Gnjilane basin (400 square kilometers); and in the center the Drenica basin (1,200 square kilometers). By the late 1990s, Kosovo had some 1,500 settlements with the typical dispersal of small settlements (up to 10,000 people), in which 50 percent of the population lived. The larger cities were Pristina (more than 100,000), Prizren (70,000), Pec (60,000), Kosovska Mitrovica (58,000), Djakovica (46,000), and Gnjilane (40,000).

By the late 1990s, more than 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million were ethnic Albanians. They had enjoyed autonomous province status under the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution. Emigration, not from but to other parts of Serbia, and because of a low birth rate, ethnic Serbs constituted only about 7 percent of the province's population, down from a quarter of the population in the early 1970's.

There had seldom been real peace in Kosovo, from the 1968 demonstrations connected with the demand that Kosovo province obtain republic status, through the big student demonstrations of 1981 that were known as the revolution in Kosovo. More than 200,000 people emigrated from Kosovo after the demonstrations of 1981 were suppressed. Of the total number, about 6,000 were regarded by the Yugoslav State Security Service as hostile emigration members, including over 20 political organizations such as the Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, the New Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, the Federation of Trade Unions of Kosovo, the World Union of Kosovo, the Bali Kombatare, and the New Communist Party of Kosovo or "Red Front." Many of these organizations were legally registered in their host countries, and were mostly concentrated in Switzerland and Germany. Yugoslav security services concluded that foreign intelligence services, especially Albania's Sigurimi, but also French and Russian agencies, were supporting some of these ethnic-Albanian organizations.

In 1974, Yugoslav President Tito had made Kosovo, along with Vojvodina in the north, an autonomous region within Serbia. After Tito's death and as the old Yugoslav Federation was beginning to disintegrate, the Serbian politician Slobodan Milosevic used Serbian nationalism and resentment of the Kosovo Albanians as a springboard to national power. In 1989, Milosevic abrogated Kosovo's constitutional autonomy, concurrently launching a purge of ethnic Albanians from the province's civil service and curtailing government funding for public institutions, including the schools.

Since 1981, the Albanian majority in Kosovo had sought independence or autonomy. However, the changes to the Serbian constitution in 1989 through 1991 revoked that autonomous province status and abolished the Parliament and Government of Kosovo. From that time, Serbian authorities carried out a policy of repression: firing ethnic Albanians from all public jobs and using arrests, brutal and often fatal beatings and other forms of intimidation in violation of commonly accepted human rights standards.

In the face of this repressive policy, ethnic Albanians of the Democratic League of Kosovo, led by the author Ibrahim Rugova, a Sorbonne-educated intellectual, opted for a policy of non-violent resistance. Albanians in Kosovo built their own parallel set of political, economic and social institutions, including a shadow parliament with various political parties, independent schools, and trade unions. In 1992, they elected Ibrahim Rugova as president and elected a 130-member parliament. This shadow government argued for greater autonomy, but Serbia flatly rejected the idea. Kosovo was revered by Serbs as the cradle of their culture. Near the provincial capital Pristina lay the Kosovo Plain, the site of the epic battle of 28 June 1389 in which medieval Serb knights and other Europeans were defeated by the Ottoman Turks, who remained in control of much of the Balkans into this century. Many of the holiest monasteries of the Serbian Orthodox Church were situated within Kosovo's borders.

Albanians in Kosovo boycotted all the institutions of the Yugoslav state, including local and national elections. The Serbian Government's law requiring universal military service was enforced only sporadically. The informal practice of the military had been not to call up ethnic Albanians. Of approximately 100,000 draft evaders living abroad to avoid punishment, 40 percent were estimated to be ethnic Albanian. This number in part reflected the large number of conscription-age men in the Kosovo Albanian community. The climate moderated due to the cessation of hostilities in Bosnia. Nevertheless, leaders of Kosovo's Albanian and Sandzak's Muslim communities maintained that forced compliance of these ethnic groups with universal military service was an attempt to induce young men to flee the country.

In 1991, the Yugloslav Federal State Security Service, which had controlled the connection between the external supporters and groupings in Kosovo and Metohija, disintegrated. The Federal State Security Service had several important intelligence centers in Albania, which supplied important information. With the disintegration of the service, the network also disintegrated. During the war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995, Serb police made numerous (and unsuccessful) attempts to break the parallel state in Kosovo.

Ongoing tensions between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians worsened in the spring of 1998, with a series of armed clashes throughout the region. On the night of 28 February 1998, Serbian special police reportedly killed more than 20 ethnic Albanians in a sweep through the Drenica region of Kosovo. Between February and June 1998 it was estimated that more than 200 ethnic Albanians were killed in Kosovo at the hands of Serbian special police and military forces. Both the police and Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA / UCK) were active in the region and each operated numerous checkpoints throughout Kosovo. Tensions between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Albanians worsened to the point of frequent armed clashes, particularly in the Drenica region north and west of Pristina and in the region near the border with Albania. Police checkpoints were numerous throughout Kosovo and the Yugoslav Army was increasingly visible outside garrisons during 1998. Armed ethnic Albanians were also increasingly visible and had set up temporary roadblocks at some points. Large demonstrations by both Serbs and ethnic Albanians continued in major Kosovo towns on a daily basis. Ethnic tensions remained high in the Sandzak region as well.

As of mid-1998 it was estimated that the KLA controlled about 25 to 30 percent of the territory of Kosovo. The rural territory most firmly under KLA control was said to encompass a wedge starting between Djakovica and Decani in the south, the top of which was 20 to 25 kilometers west of Pristina, covering a part of the Pristina-Pec road. The KLA had established authority in this area, and the KLA had also fortified these well supplied positions in the region of Drenica, where the conflict began. There were neither large urban centers nor garrisons in the area of Drenica, where Serbian police no longer attempted to enter. An additional 15 percent of Kosovo was said to be effectively under KLA control though without established KLA power structures. The urban-industrial zone, covering some 20 percent of Kosovo's territory, remained entirely under the control of the police, in cooperation with the Army. As much as half of Kosovo was partially controlled by the police during daylight hours and ruled almost entirely by the KLA at night.

The border with Albania between Djakovica and Decani was formally under Serbian control, but the road between the 2 towns was not secure from KLA attacks. Beginning in May 1998, the KLA effectively asserted 24-hour control over the Pristina-Pec highway. The Serbian police had most of the remainder of the Kosovo road network under control, although roads were not entirely secure and the police were unable to prevent KLA attacks on police patrols and convoys. The police and the Yugoslav Army, with their posts, police stations, and barracks dispersed across Kosovo, were dependent on the condition of roads, which were susceptible to attacks and ambushes, for supplying these posts. KLA attacks along the road between Mitrovica and Pec had even blocked supplies to the Yugoslav border troops, which had be supplied by helicopter.

The Contact Group, made up of the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and Russia, met regularly to try to hammer out a unified policy on Kosovo. The Contact Group issued 4 demands: a cessation of fighting; the unconditional withdrawal of Serbian special police forces and Yugoslav Army forces from Kosovo; a return of refugees; and unlimited access for international monitors. Following the June 1998 Moscow meeting with Russian President Yeltsin, Yugoslav President Milosevic said that he was prepared to meet these demands, apart from withdrawing police and army units, since this would create conditions in which the KLA could easily take over Kosovo and proclaim independence.

The United Nations Security Council, by resolution 1160 adopted on 31 March 1998, condemned the excessive use of force by Serbian police forces against civilians and peaceful demonstrators in Kosovo and acting under Chapter VII of the Charter imposed a comprehensive arms embargo on Yugoslavia. By taking under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the Security Council determined that the violence in Kosovo was a threat to international peace and security. Both US Secretary of State Albright and US Secretary of Defense Cohen took the position that the Security Council's authorization was desirable, but not required for further NATO action to intervene in Kosovo.

The basic goals of the Clinton Administration policy in Kosovo were a peaceful resolution of the crisis through negotiation resulting in a return of full autonomy for the province. The agenda of the United States, working with the Contact Group, had been getting Yugoslav President Milosevic to remove his special police units and initiate a serious negotiating process, without pre-conditions, with leaders of the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo to find a mutually acceptable compromise on the future status of the province. The United States and its partners in the Contact Group did not initially support independence of Kosovo as a realistic solution to the crisis. Kosovo, unlike Bosnia, was seen as an integral part of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

NATO studied a variety of military options for moving against the Serbs and Milosevic. Reportedly, 9 preliminary options considered in mid-1998 ranged from stationing troops along Kosovo's borders, to imposing a new `no-fly zone' and a `weapons-exclusion zone' over part of Yugoslavia, to air strikes, and even ground invasions. As early as 1992, President Bush warned Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic that the United States was prepared to use military force against Serb-instigated attacks in Kosovo. When he took office, President Clinton repeated this so-called 'Christmas warning.'

In spite of these threats of force, the Yugoslav government and ethnic Serbs in Kosovo proceeded in their operations in Kosovo undeterred. The Serbian actions included displacement of the civilian population, the execution of people held in detention, the destruction of food supplies, and the prevention of aid deliveries, all part of a deliberate policy to create a depopulated zone in western Kosovo separating the Kosovar population from Albania. Serbian special police continued a policy that had driven more than 300,000 Kosovo Albanians from their homes and into the forests and mountains by late 1998. With the onset of the Balkan winter, a humanitarian catastrophe of enormous proportions loomed. Advocates of further military action contended that the West had to compel the Serbs to cease military operations at once and provide unrestricted access to international aid organizations.

In late September NATO issued an "Activation Warning," alerting countries that a military action was contemplated and alerting them that they could be asked soon to put up forces for that military mission. Subsequently NATO took the next of several steps to prepare for the use of force, issuing an "Activation Request," a notice that countries had to come forward with specific offers of weapons that would be used in military action to put the finishing touches on constituting a force that could be used. The decision to use force, called the "Activation Order," would then come when NATO voted that the military plan was complete, that the force had been generated to execute that plan, and constituted the decision by NATO to authorize the use of force.

The attack plan called for US cruise missiles to be launched first against Serb military targets in Kosovo; then, if needed, NATO would mount a wider air campaign outside Kosovo against security facilities in Serbia. Planning for an air campaign against Serbian forces in Kosovo was based on lessons learned from Operation Deliberate Force, an air campaign conducted against Serbian forces in Bosnia in just over 3 years prior, conducted from 29 August 1995 through 14 September 1995.

Ambassador Holbrooke secured an agreement from President Milosevic to comply with the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1199, with both air and ground regimes to verify compliance. Progress in the diplomatic negotiations was largely due to pressure maintained by the Alliance maintained through deployment of NATO air and naval assets in Italy and in the Adriatic sea.

The OSCE Permanent Council declared on 15 October 1998 that the OSCE was prepared to embark upon verification activities related to compliance of all parties in Kosovo with the requirements set forth by the international community with regard to the solution of the crisis in Kosovo. The Kosovo Verification Mission was the largest, most complex and most challenging mission that the OSCE had ever undertaken up to that point.

Violence continued and the situation worsened significantly with the killings in Racak on 16 January 1999. Diplomatic efforts continued to try to find a long-term peaceful solution. Both parties accepted the summons to begin negotiations at Rambouillet on 6 February 1999 and began negotiations on an interim political settlement. These talks focused on the full and immediate observance by both parties of the cease-fire and by the Former Yugoslav authorities of their commitments to NATO, including by bringing VJ and Police/Special Police force levels, force posture and activities into strict compliance with the NATO/Former Yugoslav agreement of 25 October 1998; and the ending of excessive and disproportionate use of force in accordance with these commitments.

President Milosevic gave an undertaking to the US Envoy, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, that he would reduce the number of Serb forces to the level that they had been before February of 1998. He broke that promise and all the time he planned to continue with the ethnic cleansing. Even while the peace talks were going on in Paris he was massing his troops and tanks for a new offensive on Kosovo. The peace conference, held in Paris, broke up on 19 March 1999 with the refusal of the Yugoslav delegation to accept a peaceful settlement. When the peace talks broke down, Serbia launched military forces in a renewed assault on the people of Kosovo. At 1900 hours GMT on 24 March 1999, NATO forces began air operations over the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to prevent an imminent humanitarian catastrophe as part of Operation Allied Force.

The air campaign lasted until 10 June 1999, at which time the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which establishing a peacekeeping force on the ground in Kosovo and outlined a plan for seeking a solution to the Kosovo status question. The United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) would provide administrative support for the province. NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR) remained in country as part of Operation Joint Guardian as the international community continued to debate, unsuccessfully, how best to resolve the situation. After years of such political wrangling, ethnic Albanian authorities in Kosovo unilaterally declared independence. NATO decided that KFOR would remain in Kosovo under the 1999 UN Security Council resolution until the Security Council decided it was no longer necessary. UNMIK was also reorganized and the European Union's Rule and Law (EULEX) mission was also deployed.

Though Kosovo continued to gain international recognition, Serbia and Russia led a block of countries who refused to recognize the new state. The declaration of independence also inflamed tensions with Kosovo's small ethnic Serbian minority in the northern part of the country as well. By 2013, KFOR remained in country as negotiations continued between Serbia and Kosovo about a final agreement between the 2 countries. Continuing tension meant that at that time there was no fixed timeline for ending Operation Joint Guardian.

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Page last modified: 11-09-2013 13:35:48 ZULU