Autonomous region 1945-1990 of southern Serbia; capital Priština; area 10,900 sq km/4,207 sq mi; population (2003 est) 2,088,700, of which about 80% are Albanians; Serbs and Muslims are the dominant minorities. A largely mountainous region, it includes the fertile valleys of Kosovo and Metohija and is drained by the Southern Morava River. Products include wine, nickel, lead, and zinc; the chief occupations are farming, livestock-raising, and mining. In 1990 fighting broke out between ethnic Albanians, who were agitating for unification of Kosovo with Albania, and Kosovo Serbs, who wanted Kosovo to be merged with the rest of Serbia. The Serbian parliament formally annexed Kosovo in September, and Serbian troops were sent to the region in 1998. In 1999, after a three-month bombing campaign against Serbia, NATO forces moved in to Kosovo to keep the peace, and the United Nations (UN) took over the civil administration of the province.
Settled by the Slavs in the 7th century, Kosovo passed to Bulgaria in the 9th century and to Serbia in the 12th century. In 1389 the Turks defeated Serbia and its allies in the Battle of Kosovo (which figures prominently in Serbian poetry), and the region remained under Turkish rule until the Balkan War of 1913. Partitioned in 1913 between Serbia and Montenegro, it was included in Yugoslavia after World War I. In 1945, Kosovo became an autonomous region within Serbia, and was elevated to the status of an autonomous province after Albanian riots in 1968. In 1990, demands for greater autonomy were rebuffed by Serbia, which imposed direct rule and rescinded its status as an autonomous region.
Kosovo loses autonomy
After fighting broke out, a state of emergency was declared in February 1990 and the parliament and government were dissolved in July 1990. Albanian institutions and media were suppressed, and ‘emergency legislation’ was used to rid industry of Albanian employees at all levels. In 1991 the Kosovo assembly, though still technically dissolved, organized a referendum on sovereignty which received 99% support. In May 1992 the Albanian majority held unsanctioned elections, choosing Ibrahim Rugova as president and selecting a 130-member parliament.
Ethnic conflict in the 1990s
From November 1997, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), a paramilitary force with 500 fighters at its core, which advocates the unification of Kosovo with Albania, stepped up its activities. Serb troops were sent into Kosovo in March 1998, and thousands of ethnic Albanians and Serbs fled the province. In response to the violence that continued through April and May, Western countries froze Serb-held assets overseas and banned investment in Serbia to try to force President Milošević of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to open a dialogue with ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. The UN imposed an arms embargo. In May, President Milošević opened negotiations with Rugova, but continued to reject Western attempts to provide mediation while Rugova refused to talk without the participation of a foreign mediator. The negotiations collapsed.
In July 1998 the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia launched a military offensive against the KLA in which scores of ethnic Albanian villages were destroyed, and by August international aid agencies were warning of a humanitarian crisis. There were by now 200,000 refugees. The violence escalated throughout 1998 amidst alleged atrocities and war crimes on both sides. On 28 January 1999, NATO issued an ultimatum to warring parties.
Negotiations between the KLA and Serbia took place in February 1999 at Rambouillet near Paris, France. Prior to the talks, Belgrade had acknowledged that the province of Kosovo had to be granted a greater autonomy. However, it rejected the peace plan, and stepped up its persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
NATO's bombing campaign
In March 1999, NATO aircraft began a bombing campaign in an attempt to force the Yugoslav government to withdraw its troops from Kosovo. The bombing campaign was stepped up in April and May, as was the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of ethnic Albanians by the Serbs. The refugee crisis in neighbouring countries worsened.
Milošević accepted NATO's peace agreement in June. Serbian police and military forces withdrew from Kosovo and NATO forces took control of Kosovo to keep the peace, while the UN was made responsible for overseeing the province's civil administration.
After the war
Despite some clashes between KLA fighters and Serbs, and between NATO soldiers and Serbs, NATO's takeover was largely peaceful. Nevertheless,
the Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group, complained in August of systematic attacks by ethnic Albanians against Serbs and gypsies in Kosovo, claiming that well over 164,000 Serbs had fled Kosovo. New evidence of Serbian massacres in the region continued to be discovered. About 600,000 refugees had returned to Kosovo in the first five weeks after the peace treaty was signed.
At a conference on rebuilding Kosovo held in Brussels, Belgium, in July 1999, more than 100 governments and aid organizations were asked to give emergency help; over $2 billion/£1.25 billion was pledged. At another meeting in July in Sarajevo, Bosnia's capital, 40 world leaders met to promote stability in all of the Balkans, excluding Serbia. They signed a ‘Stability Pact’ aimed at replacing turmoil in the Balkans with peace and prosperity.
In August 1999 thousands of Serbs were forced to flee the Kosovo capital, Priština, after violence from ethnic Albanian gangs. The UN High Commissioner for refugees reported that only 30,000 Serbs remained in the province. By the following year, the population of Priština, it was claimed, had fallen from a pre-war total of 40,000 to barely 400 people.
Troubled transition to civilian rule
In September 1999, the KLA agreed to transform itself into a civilian guard, the Kosovo Protection Corps, which would work under the supervision of NATO's commander in Kosovo. In protest to this organization, Serb members pulled out of the Kosovo Transitional Council (KTC), a body which advises the UN Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Members of a new power-sharing council in Kosovo met for the first time in February 2000, although leaders refused to disband their alternative civil structures. Violence continued in the ethnically-divided city of Mitrovica between Serbs, ethnic Albanians, and NATO-led peacekeeping troops, who put the town under a military curfew, sealing off the Albanian quarter.
In August, the Hague-based United Nations International Criminal Tribunal, announced its estimate that between 4,000 and 5,000 Kosovo Albanians were killed by Serbian forces during the occupation in 1999. The estimate was based on exhumations by international investigators.
By August 2000 around 1 million people, 90% of the eligible ethnic Albanian population but few ethnic Serbs, registered to vote in the following October's elections. The elections were boycotted by the Serb community, and won by the Democratic League of Kosovo, led by Rugova. Rugova continued to demand full independence from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
According to UN statistics, 90% of Kosovan refugees officially sent to the West had returned of their own accord. But in 2000 it was alleged that Western governments were attempting to rid themselves of the remainder, and apparently sending back more Kosovars than they officially took in. Kosovo's UN administrator denounced the growing trend of forced repatriation.
Border dispute with Serbia
Increased activity by ethnic Albanian rebels in the Presevo Valley, on the border with Serbia, caused the Serbian government to warn NATO in late November to prevent cross-border raids by the rebels, and then to increase the numbers of police and armed forces in the area. The rebels want the area, which is still officially part of Serbia, to be united with Kosovo. Fighting between Serb forces and the rebels caused thousands of ethnic Albanians to flee into Kosovo.
The violence in Presevo escalated in February 2001. Yugoslav authorities increased pressure on NATO forces to act against the ethnic Albanian guerrillas. In response to growing evidence that the guerrillas were using the buffer zone around Kosovo as a base, NATO agreed to begin dismantling it, and in mid-March Yugoslav forces moved in.
In May, UNMIK announced plans for self-government, including elections to a legislative assembly that were scheduled to take place in September. On 17 November, Kosovo elected a 120-seat legislative assembly that would choose a president and government. Ibrahim Rugova's moderate ethnic Albanian nationalists won just over 46% of the vote. Western relief at the election success of the moderates was undermined two days later when EU officials clashed with Rugova over his pursuit of independence for the province. Kosovo's first democratically-elected parliament opened in Pristina on 9 December. The legislative assembly elected Rugova as president in March, after a deal had been struck between the rival ethnic-Albanian parties to share power. Bajram Rexhepi was elected prime minister.
In the general election of October 2004, the Democratic League won 47 out of 120 seats, and in December the legislative assembly re-elected Rugova as president, appointing the former rebel commander Ramush Haradinaj (whose party had entered into a coalition with the Democratic League) as prime minister.
Haradinaj resigned his post in March 2005, after being indicted to appear before the UN war crimes tribunal in the Hague, and was replaced by Bajram Kosumi, who in turn resigned in March 2006 due to criticism from within his party. Kosumi was succeeded by the former KLA commander Agim Çeku. The presidency also changed hands in 2006 following the death in January of Rugova, who was succeeded in February by Fatmir Sejdiu.
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