Kosovo. The Serbian majority in four municipalities in northern Kosovo voted in February with a large majority against recognizing the republic that the country’s Albanian population declared in 2008. They thus defied the government of Priština and also did not support the Serbian government in Belgrade to hold a referendum in question.
In talks during EU mediation, Kosovo and Serbia reached a settlement in February that allowed Kosovo to have representation at international meetings.
When a group of Serbs from northern Kosovo visited a historic battlefield outside Priština in June, their buses were attacked by stone-throwing Albanians, and about 50 people were injured.
- AbbreviationFinder.org: Provides most commonly used acronyms and abbreviations for Kosovo. Also includes location map, major cities, and country overview.
A visit by UN chief Ban Ki Moon in July was interpreted by many as a recognition of Kosovo’s right to independence, although a UN membership was still remote. In September, the international steering group – 23 EU countries, the US and Turkey – gave the go-ahead for Kosovo to go from being a republic with “supervised independence” to “full independence”. Kosovo, now recognized by more than 90 countries around the world, was found to have fulfilled conditions set out in a UN plan in connection with independence from Serbia. US President Barack Obama called the status change a “historic milestone.” However, Serbia, which did not recognize the independence of the breakaway republic, dismissed the message as irrelevant.
Nevertheless, the country’s heads of government, Kosovo’s Hashim Thaçi and his Serbian colleague Ivica Dac˘ić, met in Brussels in October, led by EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton. It was the first high-level political meeting held since Kosovo declared itself independent. Ashton stated that they both promised to work to improve relations between the countries. The talks sparked violent protests in Kosovo’s capital Priština by people who opposed all normalization in relations with Serbia. Over 20 were injured and dozens were arrested in the unrest.
During the autumn, Kosovo and Serbia also managed to agree on a common border check, despite having different views on the border status.
A research team in the Netherlands was commissioned in November to lead an international investigation into alleged organ trafficking in Kosovo in 2008. According to the data, illegal transplants should have taken place. Several arrests in the case had been made in Israel earlier this year. The investigation was funded by the European Commission and would last for three years.
In November, the UN War Criminal Tribunal in The Hague freed former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj from suspicions of war crimes during the 1998–99 conflict with Serbia. Haradinaj was already released in 2008, but the trial had to be rescheduled because of information that witnesses were threatened. The verdict was celebrated in Kosovo but triggered protests in Serbia.
From the Drenica massacre to the Rambouillet Conference
In the first months of 1998 there was a succession of guerrilla actions by the KLA and ferocious Serbian repression. The most dramatic episode occurred on March 8, when in the village of Precaz (Drenica) the Serbian police massacred the entire family of Adem Jashari, one of the leaders of the KLA, indiscriminately killing terrorists, women and children. The images of the Drenica massacre, broadcast by the media all over the world and repeated on the websites of Albanian nationalism, deeply disturbed public opinion and especially the Kosovars of emigration, very numerous in Switzerland and Germany, who began to fear that Kosovo was now at the center of a generalized ethnic cleansing by the Serbs. Thousands of young people, thanks to the support of the Albanian police, they began to return to Kosovo to join the ranks of the KLA, which established its own logistic centers and military training camps in northern Albania. In the same March 1998, despite all the delegitimization campaigns carried out by the KLA, Rugova was re-elected president and, with the popular support of the overwhelming majority of Kosovars, he went to Belgrade to meet the leaders of the Serbian government. But the results of the meeting, cleverly exploited by Yugoslav propaganda, which highlighted the unease of the Kosovar president in the face of Milosevic’s determination, were disappointing. Serbia postponed sine die the question of Kosovo’s political and national autonomy: the Serbian leader could not afford to lose, after the breakup of the Yugoslav Federation, even the southern region of what was left of it. A weak and vain attempt to resume dialogue between Milosevic and the Albanians took place at the end of May 1998.
As the murders, arrests and kidnappings of people continued, attempts to avert the looming danger of a generalized inter-ethnic conflict promoted by international diplomacy were also unsuccessful. The contact group, made up of the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain, worked in vain in a dissuasive action against both Albanians and Serbs, who were inflicted with economic sanctions. In September, although NATO threatened to bomb Kosovo, Serbs and Albanians violated both international agreements. In October, the special envoy of the United States, Richard Holbrooke, was unable to reconcile the positions of Milosevic and the Albanian leaders. In a scenario of growing tension, the choice to support the forces of UCK by the United States, which until then had had a privileged dialogue with Rugova, who repeatedly went to confer at the State Department. However Rugova had disappointed the expectations of US diplomacy, which came to the belief that he could only guarantee moderation and political waiting, elements that in the Balkan chessboard risked facilitating, at least at that moment, Milosevic’s skilled plots. The same internal public opinion, up to that moment in favor of the moderate leader, began to manifest, with the students in the front row, an ever clearer and more pronounced distancing.
Meanwhile, the violence in Kosovo was on the rise. On January 15, 1999, the bodies of forty-five Albanians killed and horribly mutilated were found in Racak. International public opinion immediately and unanimously condemned the crime committed by the Serbs. The prosecutor of the International Court in The Hague, Louise Harbor, declared, through CNN, her indignation and willingness to strike at the cruel perpetrators of the Kosovar genocide. The Racak massacre induced the Contact Group to resume the confrontation on Kosovo, and the French convened an all-out negotiation in the castle of Rambouillet.
At the end of the first phase of the negotiations it was not possible to reach an agreement due to the unwillingness of H. Thaci, who represented the KLA in Rambouillet, to sign a text that did not provide for the independence of Kosovo. Subsequently, the Kosovar leader was persuaded by the Americans to resume negotiations and on March 15 the second phase of the Conference began. The final text, however, was signed by Rugova and Thaci, but not by the Serbs. Ten days later NATO military operations against Serbia began.