War and Conflict


What caused the fighting in Kosovo?

The conflict in Kosovo, like that in Bosnia, was ethnic-based. Kosovo is a province at the southern end of Serbia; it neighbors Albania and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. Many Albanians still live in Kosovo and see themselves more closely aligned with Albania, to the southwest, than with Yugoslavia. Thus, a separatist movement began, which caused mounting tension between ethnic Albanians and Serbian authorities.

Early in 1998 Serbian forces and Yugoslav army units moved to suppress the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the guerrilla force that sought independence for the province’s Albanian population. In October Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic (1941-) agreed to end the crackdown—but this was only after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) had repeatedly threatened air strikes. However, in the months that followed Milosevic’s stated compliance, there was more violence against ethnic Albanians. By January 1999 hundreds had been killed and more than a quarter million people were displaced from their homes—many of them seeking shelter in makeshift huts in the forest. Victims included the elderly, women, and children. On March 23, 1999, Yugoslav’s Serb parliament rejected NATO demands for autonomy in Kosovo as well as the plan to send NATO peacekeeping troops into the troubled province. The following day, NATO launched a campaign of air strikes against Yugoslavia, with the intent to weaken Milosevic and force him to comply with international demands to settle the conflict. After more than 50 days of air strikes, which included some controversial and deadly errors on NATO’s part, it appeared that while NATO was winning the air campaign against Yugoslavia, the Serbian government of Yugoslavia was winning a ground campaign against the Kosovar Albanians: Of the estimated 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in Yugoslavia, Milosevic’s forces had driven out or killed all but 130,000. Meantime, evidence of Serb atrocities toward ethnic Albanians mounted, as mass graves were discovered and survivors who fled Kosovo reported horrific tales of torture and rape at the hands of the Serbs.

Ultimately NATO’s Operation Allied Force was successful. On June 10, 1999, after a 77-day air campaign, the bombing was temporarily suspended because Yugoslav forces had begun to fully withdraw from Kosovo. The withdrawal was in compliance with an agreement drawn up between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Republic of Serbia on the evening of June 9. By June 20 the Serb withdrawal was complete and a multinational security force was established to keep the peace. That same day NATO announced that it had formally terminated the air campaign. NATO personnel were reassigned as peacekeepers and to move humanitarian aid, including food, water, tents, and medical supplies. Though the crisis in Kosovo was over, the aftermath was immense: It was estimated that by the end of May 1999, 1.5 million people, or 90 percent of the Kosovar population, had been expelled from their homes and a quarter million Kosovar men were missing. Further, there was mounting evidence that ethnic Albanians had been the victims of genocide. This evidence included the discoveries of mass graves; reports of mass executions, expulsions, and rape; and the systematic destruction of property and crops.

In 2003, in a peace accord brokered by the European Union, the nation of Serbia and Montenegro was established, with each republic receiving greater autonomy. The nation of Yugoslavia no longer existed.


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