After Dayton

Uneasy impasse

The uneasy impasse in Kosovo was brought to an end after the signing of the Dayton Accords in 1995. The U.S- brokered peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not address the situation in Kosovo, and Serbian military resources shifted in anticipation of action in Kosovo.

Kosovo Liberation Army
Adem Demaçi (public source)

Adem Demaçi (Courtesy of the European Parliament)

In the meantime, a new force had appeared in Kosovo, calling itself the Kosovo Liberation Army or KLA (in Albanian, UCK) and targeting the Serbian presence in the province.

The KLA’s spokesman, Adem Demaçi, advocated unification with Albania. At the same time a younger generation of militant leaders emerged, the most prominent being Hashim Thaçi.

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Hashim Thaçi  (Fitim Selimi)

By early 1998, violent clashes between the KLA and Serbian police were widespread, and Rugova's leadership of Kosovo's Albanians increasingly came into question. Rugova was re-elected as president by Kosovo Albanians, but responding to demands from his electorate called for independence. The U.S. tried to persuade both sides to moderate their positions. But violence continued to escalate as Serbian forces sought to destroy the KLA and regain control of the province.

Violence, KVM, peace conference, and more violence

The stepped-up fighting displaced over half a million people, which culminated in major successes for Serbian security forces in September 1998. The threat of NATO air strikes in October finally forced Milosevic to cease all-out offensives, withdraw some forces, and permit international observers.

OSCE vehicles pull out of Yugoslavia on 20 March 1999. (Belga Photo)

OSCE vehicles pull out of Yugoslavia on 20 March 1999. (Belga Photo)

The OSCE sent approximately 2,000 international civialian personnel as part of a Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM), which had a verification. The mandate called for the KVM to verify the agreement brokered by U.S. Ambassador Holbrooke in October 1998. However, since the OSCE did not have an existing recruitment roster of potential candidates for deployment, the mission was slow to be filled. The KVM reached about 1,400 persons when the decision was made to withdraw its personnel from Kosovo as violence continued to escalate.

Military activity continued on both sides. In mid-January 1999, international observers reported that Serbian security forces killed over 40 Albanian civilians in the village of Račak. The threat of airstrikes forced the Belgrade government to attend a peace conference in Rambouillet in February and March. The Albanian delegation included Rugova and Thaçi, but not Demaçi. Albanian delegates signed an agreement (together with the U.S. and UK) that called for almost 30,000 NATO soldiers to enter Kosovo to ensure compliance: the Serb (and Russian) delegation refused, and the Serbian parliament confirmed its decision.

Ethnic cleansing
Evidence of mass killings

In the face of ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian security forces, and amid international determination not to permit mass murder of civilians as had occurred in Bosnia, a NATO air campaign was launched against Yugoslavia in March 1999 and continued for almost three months.

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Kosovo refugees fleeing their homeland, Blace area (FYROM)1 March 1999. (UNHCR/RLeMoyne)

 

After the air campaign began, the scale of Yugoslav military operations against the Albanian civilian population increased, and Serbian paramilitaries also began to operate in the province. Widespread occurances of rape and mass killings of at least 2,000 Kosovo Albanians occurred, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced from their homes. Fearing for their own safety from government forces and the paramilitaries, over half of Kosovo's Albanian population sought refuge outside Yugoslavia, either in Albania or Macedonia. Family or friends sheltered a majority of the refugees privately; others were housed in camps. The KLA, meanwhile, continued to fight against Yugoslav forces.