Kosovo: The Long Road to War

A Chronology 1999


January – The commander of the main FRY military unit in Kosovo, Lieutenant-General Dusan Smardzic, tells local reporters that they can look forward to a "hot spring" in which the problems in the Province will finally be resolved.

16 January – The bodies of at least 45 peasant farmers and their children are found on hillsides and courtyards in the village of Racak. The "Racak massacre" is regarded as a turning point by Albright and the Clinton Administration. The killings galvanize public opinion in Europe as well.

19 January

–President Clinton’s top aides meet in the Situation Room in the White House basement to hear a new plan for an autonomous Kosovo from Madeleine Albright. Again, NATO bombing is threatened. For the first time, however, it demands that Serbia accept NATO troops in Kosovo to enforce a deal under which Serbia would withdraw almost all its security forces and grant Kosovo broad autonomy. The plan goes significantly beyond the provision of armed protection for OSCE observers. However, Secretary of Defense William Cohen and General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are critical of a plan that would require American troops deployed in a militarily and politically unstable area.

–In Belgrade, General Wesley K. Clark and Chairman of the NATO Military Council General Klaus Naumann present the new threats of NATO air strikes.

21 January

–President Clinton describes to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain the new Western approach. The two leaders agree that the West is constrained to two options: initiating an immediate bombing campaign in reprisal for Racak massacres, or fashioning a diplomatic solution that includes ground troops as peacekeepers in Kosovo. Blair argues that ground troops cannot be used to fight a war, but only as part of a comprehensive political strategy. President Clinton agrees.

–Two State Department veterans of the Dayton talks, James Pardew and Christopher Hill, deliver renewed threats of Western retaliation for Racak unless Serbia comes to the bargaining table.

28 January – The NATO allies announce that they are ready to use force immediately, and Britain and France say they are prepared to send in ground troops to enforce a peace settlement.

30 January – Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General, announces that the threat of force is justified to bring the Serbs to the bargaining table. The allies decide they now have justification under international law to authorize air strikes against Yugoslavia if it does not agree to negotiate a settlement.

February – George J. Tenet, the Director of Central Intelligence, predicts in Congressional testimony that there will be a major spring offensive by the Serbs in Kosovo and huge refugee flows.

4 February – Secretary of State Madeleine Albright delivers a lecture and statement of US policy at a forum assembled by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a federally funded think-tank. In the presentation, Secretary Albright outlines "the lessons of Bosnia":

Kosovo is not Bosnia because we have learned the lessons of Bosnia–and we are determined to apply them here and now. We know . . . that the only reward for tolerating atrocities is more of the same. We know that the longer we delay in exercising our leadership, the dearer it will eventually be–in dollars lost, in lost credibility and in human lives. . . .Finally, we learned in Bosnia, and we have seen in Kosovo, that President Milosevic understands only the language of force. Nothing less than strong engagement from NATO will focus the attention of both sides; and nothing less than firm American leadership will ensure decisive action.51

6-20 February Talks towards a peaceful interim settlement and political framework for Kosovo take place in Rambouillet, France. The Americans approach the negotiations hoping to impose a solution on the Serbs and the Kosovo Albanians, but the attempt quickly breaks down. Slobodan Milosevic does not attend the meetings, concluding that there is not enough of an incentive for him to deal, given the initial text of the agreement. The draft document provides for full Kosovar Albanian autonomy in police, education, military, and social affairs and the deployment of NATO ground troops in Kosovo to enforce the interim agreement. It stipulates further that Kosovo’s status would be decided after three years based partially "on the will of the people," implying the possibility of a referendum for independence. Likewise, the Albanians, influenced heavily by the growth and military successes of the KLA, refuse to accept a three-year autonomy deal without an ironclad guarantee of eventual independence. Secretary Albright implores the Albanian delegations to sign near the end of the two-week negotiating period, but she fails to convince the hard-liners, the representatives of the Kosovo Liberation Army, who insist on inserting language promising a referendum on independence after three years of autonomy. However, the KLA negotiators agree to a two week period to present the plan to their supporters.

By refusing to sign the deal, the Kosovo Albanians take the pressure off the Serbs, leaving NATO with no legitimate rationale (under international law) to order air strikes at that point. "If this fails because both sides say ‘No,’ there will be no bombing of Serbia," Secretary Albright said on February 21, as the Rambouillet talks wound down.

26 February – The Pentagon tells the media that the Yugoslav Army has massed 4,500 heavily armored troops on the Kosovo border.52

14-18 March – As a follow-up to the first Rambouillet proceedings, another session is convened in Rambouillet. On 18 March, four ethnic Albanian delegates sign a peace plan that would give their people broad autonomy for a three-year interim period, with possible independence at the end of the term. Unknown to the media or many Western political leaders, language has also been inserted in the Appendix that allows NATO troops to bivouac and travel unimpeded on Serbian Republican territory. Partly due to this provision, and partly to the revised language on a Kosovar referendum, the Serbs do not sign. According to Secretary Albright, "Signing Rambouillet was crucial in getting the Europeans. . . .to agree to the use of force." She argued that the Serbs had already begun their offensive, and without the explicit consent of the Albanians to the peace agreement, "we would be negotiating while they were carrying out their ‘village a day keeps NATO away.’"

19 March – Rambouillet conference co-chairmen Hubert Vedrine (Foreign Minister of France) and Robin Cook (Foreign Minister of Britian) release a joint statement saying:

1) The Rambouillet Accords are the only peaceful solution to the Kosovo problem; 2) In Paris, the Kosova delegation seized this opportunity . . . 3) Far from seizing this opportunity, the Yugoslav delegation has tried to unravel the Rambouillet Accords; 4) Therefore, after consultation with our partners in the Contact Group . . . we consider there is no purpose in extending the talks any further. The negotiations are adjourned. The talks will not resume unless the Serbs express their acceptance of the accords; 5) We will immediately engage in consultations with our partners and allies to be ready to act. We will be in contact with the Secretary General of NATO.53

However, even though the United States and its NATO allies are now committed to war, Robin Cook, Hubert Vedrine, and Joschka Fischer of Germany want to fly to Belgrade to give Milosevic one last chance to sign the accords. Secretary Albright persuades them to allow Ambassador Holbrooke to go instead.

22 March – Slobodan Milosevic accuses the Americans of "sitting at the Albanian side of the table" at Rambouillet, and refuses to make any compromises.

22-24 March – OSCE observers are extracted from Kosovo Province, and bombing begins on 24 March.


1 All entries for 1988-1989 are excerpted from Noel Malcom, “Kosovo after the death of Tito: 1981-1997,” pp. 335-427, A Short History of Kosovo, New York: NY University Press, 1998, with amendments and additions by Louis Sell, a former US State Department Balkan Specialist. Mr. Sell is an advisor to BASIC for this project.

2 Warren Zimmermann, Origins of a Catastrophe, New York: Times Books – Random House, 1996 p. 18.

3 Ibid

4 Ibid., 15-16.

5 Ibid., pp. 19-20.

6 Ibid., p. 47-48.

7 Ibid., p. 52.; Susan Woodward, Balkan Tragedy: Chaos and Dissolution after the Cold War, Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1995, p. 115.

8 Susan Woodward, Ibid.

9 Unless otherwise specified, source material on events and dates are taken from “Yugoslav Crisis and the World – Chronology of Events (The Year 1990),” Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

10 Zimmerman, op cit., pp. 58-60.

11 Ibid., pp. 60-64.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid., p. 102.

14 Ibid., pp. 102-103.

15 Ibid., p. 123.

16 Ibid., pp. 133-136; Susan Woodward, op cit.

17 Dusko Doder & Louise Branson, Milosevic. Portrait of a Tyrant, NY: The Free Press, 1999, pp. 147-165.

18 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Fact Sheet: Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE),” Dispatch Magazine, vol. 5 n. 50, 12 December 1994.

19 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Secretary Eagleburger Meets With Kosovo Leader: Statement by Department Spokesman Richard Boucher, Brussels, Belgium, December 17, 1992,” Dispatch Magazine, vol. 4 n. 1, 4 January 1993.

20 United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), “KOSOVO,” Report on The U.S. Helsinki Commission Delegation to Romania, Macedonia, Kosovo (Serbia) and Vienna (Austria), April 1993.  For the full text, see CSCE Publication List, web address http://www.house.gov/csce/publist.htm#REPORTS, section titled “COMMISSION REPORTS.”

21 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Fact Sheet: CSCE,” op cit.

22 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Group of Seven (G-7) 1993 Economic Summit, Tokyo, Japan, July 7-9,” Dispatch Magazine, Supplemental Edition, vol. 4 n. 3, August 1993.

23 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Strengthening American Security Through World Leadership:  Bosnia and Beyond,’ Remarks by Deputy Secretary Talbott at State Department Town Meeting, Washington, DC, November 1, 1995,” Dispatch Magazine, vol. 6 no. 45, 6 November 1995.

24 U.S. Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs, “Opening remarks at a press conference by Secretary Christopher February 4, 1996,” Dispatch Magazine, vol. 7, no. 7, 12 February 1996.

25 Stefan Troebst, “Conflict in Kosovo: Failure of Prevention? An Analytical Documentation, 1992-1998,” European Centre for Minority Issues Working Paper #1, May 1998, pp. 76-8.

26 BASIC interview with Martin Sletzinger, Director for Eastern European Studies at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Washington, DC; BASIC telephone discussion with Vladimir Matic, Visiting Professor at Clemson University, South Carolina.

27 Testimony before the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hearing “Political Turmoil in Serbia,” 10 December 1998, One Hundred Fifth Congress (Second Session), US Government Printing Office: Washington, DC.  For the full text, see  CSCE website at http://www.house.gov/csce/publist.htm.

28 Troebst, Working Paper #1, op cit., p. 91.

29 Ibid., pp. 76-78.

30 Unless otherwise specified, all entries for 1998 are excerpted and condensed from Stefan Troebst, “Appendix 1-C,” The Kosovo Conflict.

31 Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner, “Crisis in the Balkans: the Road to War-A special report. How a President, Distracted by Scandal, Entered Balkan War,” New York Times Sunday Foreign Desk, 18 April 1999.

32 Stefan Troebst, Working Paper #1, op cit.p. 78.

33 Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner, op cit.

34 Ibid.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid.


38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Tanjug and Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Serbian Government Endorses Accord Reached by President Milosevic,” 13 October 1998.

42 Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner, op cit.

43 Ibid.



46 Ibid.

47 Steven Erlanger, “US Hardens Stance on Yugoslav Leader,” New York Times Sunday Foreign Desk, 13 December 1998.

48 Testimony before the US Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Hearing “The Milosevic Regime versus Serbian Democracy and Balkan Stability,” 10 December 1998, US Congress, Washington, DC.  For the full text, see CSCE website at http://www.house.gov/csce/publist.htm.

49 Steven Erlanger, op cit.

50 Unless otherwise stated in footnotes, all quotations and events for 1999 are from a story in the New York Times: “Crisis in the Balkans: the Road to War-A special report. How a President, Distracted by Scandal, Entered Balkan War,” by Elaine Sciolino and Ethan Bronner, Sunday, 18 April 1999.

51 United States Department of State, Office of the Spokesman, “Remarks by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at U.S. Institute of Peace,” 4 February 1999; see also the US Institute of Peace website,   http://www.usip.org/oc/events/Albright_020499.html.

52 Eric Schmitt,  “Serb Army Masses 4,500 Armored Troops,” New York Times (Foreign Desk), Friday, 26 February 1999.

53 Declaration of the CoChairmen Hubert Vedrine and Robin Cook (19 March 1999), on French Ministere des Affaires Entrangeres website, Kosovo Meeting, http://www.france.diplomatie.fr/actual/evenements/rambouillet.gb.html.

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