Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

KOSOVO / KOSOVA As Seen, As Told
PART I : The OSCE-KVM human rights operation (Chapter 1)

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In the early 20th century Kosovo and western Macedonia, emerging from the dismantling of the Ottoman empire in south-eastern Europe, were the main areas of collision between Albanian and Serb nationalist aspirations. The Albanian national revival, under way since the foundation in 1878 of the League of Prizren, aimed at uniting the areas of mainly Muslim Albanian-speaking populations. The Serb focus was on history and symbolism rather than on contemporary demographics. Serbian historians held the Kosovo area to be the cradle of their civilization, where some of the defining events relating to their sense of nationhood had taken place, notably the final and unavailing stand made by Prince Lazar against Ottoman forces at the Battle of Kosovo Polje in June 1389. The Orthodox monasteries of Kosovo were of great significance in their religious and cultural identity; Pec/Peja in particular was the seat of the Serbian Patriarchate.

Serbia, itself an independent principality only since 1878, after centuries of almost uninterrupted Ottoman rule, gained control of Kosovo in 1912 as a result of the First Balkan War. The Albanian state which came into being at this time thus did not include territory where some 800,000 Albanians lived. Only briefly during the Second World War, when the area was conquered by Italian and then German forces, was an Albanian vassal state allowed to administer most of Kosovo (1941-44).

Movements of population during this period are a matter of much dispute. From 1912 onwards, Serb families were moved into Kosovo in considerable numbers, the wealthier Albanians living there were dispossessed by land reforms, and possibly as many as half a million Albanians were moved out. Conversely, it is frequently asserted by Serbs that hundreds of thousands of Albanians moved into Kosovo between 1941 and 1945.

Under communist rule in post-1945 Yugoslavia, Albanians were recognized as a minority nationality, with legal rights to education in their own language and protection for cultural institutions. Kosovo, as part of Serbia, had a degree of home rule, extended in 1968.

Autonomous province status

The 1974 Constitution - the third of the period of the rule of Marshal Tito - was a major step in the devolution of government and economic power to the republics - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia - which made up the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). However, Tito had long been occupied with the problem of Serbia's weight within the SFRY. It was by far the largest republic, with over nine million inhabitants - 40 per cent of the total population. The 1974 Constitution addressed this issue by giving nearly one-third of Serbia's inhabitants a large degree of autonomy, in the provinces of Kosovo (where the population was 90 per cent Albanian, totalling some 1.7 million and rising) and Vojvodina (the home of a 400,000-strong Hungarian minority).

While they were defined as autonomous provinces of Serbia rather than given full republican status, Kosovo and Vojvodina were recognized by the 1974 Constitution as constituent members of the federation. Their leaders thus had separate membership of the rotating collective state presidency which took over after the death of Tito in 1981. The autonomous provinces each had their own central bank and separate police, educational systems and judiciary, a provincial assembly as well as representation in the Serbian parliament, and most importantly a provincial communist party, in Kosovo's case the League of Communists of Kosovo.

In 1981, demands by Kosovo Albanians for full republican status (notionally including the right to secede) gathered impetus in mass protests, but the demonstrations were countered by a hardline response. The federal army was deployed and a state of emergency was declared in the province. As unrest continued over the next seven years, according to official figures 7,000 Kosovo Albanians were sentenced to short prison terms, and over 1,750 more received longer sentences, of up to 15 years, in connection with nationalist activity.

The Serb nationalist backlash

Although it was mainly Albanian activists and protesters who were being subjected to human rights violations in Kosovo post-1981, including arrest and imprisonment - by law enforcement bodies still at this stage mainly staffed by Albanians - the Serbs of Kosovo saw themselves as the disadvantaged minority there. Complaining of discrimination, of violent attacks upon them going unpunished, and of the domination of political and economic life by the Kosovo Albanian community, Kosovo Serbs had already been migrating from the area in growing numbers since the 1960s. Petitions began to circulate, and Kosovo Serbs' resentment was galvanized into protest and resistance following the sensational publication in a mass circulation newspaper in September 1986 of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences. An unfinished draft of an academic paper, the Memorandum ranged over issues including an alleged conspiracy against Serbia by Slovenia and Croatia. Such divisive nationalism was heresy in the SFRY and was duly denounced across the country. Its effects were nevertheless explosive, and nowhere more so than in Kosovo, where the Memorandum warned Serbs that they faced total genocide unless they could reverse the "Albanianization" of the province.

24 April 1987 was a critical day for Serb nationalism and for the future of Kosovo. Slobodan Milosevic, a prominent figure in the republican communist party, the League of Communists of Serbia, had gone to Kosovo for a dialogue with the local Serbs about their grievances. While he was in Kosovo Polje/Fushe Kosove meeting their representatives, a large crowd demonstrating in their support was driven back by local police using batons. The crowd fought back, and then Milosevic came out to address them. He made himself the instant hero of the Kosovar Serbs, telling them in front of the television cameras that "no one should dare to beat you", and making their controversial nationalist agenda his own. By the end of 1987 Milosevic was in firm control of both the party and government in Serbia.

The loss of autonomy status

The following year, as both the Albanian nationalist agitation and Serb anti-discrimination rallies maintained their momentum, proposals were put forward to amend the Serbian constitution to give Belgrade more control over security in Kosovo and Vojvodina (as well as over financial and social policy), thereby reducing provincial autonomy. Leading members of the League of Communists in both provinces resigned before the constitutional amendments were approved in February-March 1989 by the Serbian parliament and the respective provincial assemblies.

Further stages in the removal of provincial autonomy followed. The main step, including dissolving the provincial assemblies, was taken in the form of amendments to the Serbian constitution proposed in May 1990, implemented in June and supported in a republic-wide referendum that July. The last visible political institutions of provincial autonomy - representation on the collective SFRY presidency and in the Federal Assembly - remained nominally intact, but in practice the presidency itself was in chronic crisis as the federation approached the end of its existence. At one stage in March 1991 the Kosovo representative was recalled for "anti-Serbian activities" and the Serbian Assembly voted to abolish the post. Although this was soon rescinded, two months later the Kosovo delegation walked out of the Federal Assembly when it voted to confirm a candidate chosen by Serbia as the new Kosovo representative on the Presidency.

Of greater real significance than this political manoeuvring within the Presidency were the withdrawal or closure of publicly funded Albanian language media in 1989, the publication in 1990 of a new schools curriculum for Kosovo to bring Albanian-language teaching into line with that in the rest of Serbia, the ending of teaching in Albanian in most secondary schools in 1992, and the cutting of Albanian-language teaching at Pristina University at the same time. Kosovo Albanians responded with a schools boycott and attempts to maintain a "parallel" system of Albanian-language education, often provided by teachers who had lost their jobs.

Periods of particularly acute tension in the continuing unrest included violent rioting over the 1989 constitutional amendments and the arrest of popular local political leader Azem Vlasi; disturbances in Pristina in early 1990, quelled by the temporary imposition of a state of emergency, after Milosevic had issued a call for Serbs to begin a campaign of mass settlement to reverse the decline in their numbers in Kosovo; protests over the dissolution of the provincial assembly that July; and a general strike in September 1990 over mass dismissals of Kosovo Albanian officials. A state of emergency, backed by a strong Serbian police and security presence, was in force in Kosovo from late 1989 until the latter part of 1992.

Parallel Kosovo Albanian administration in Kosovo

After the Kosovo Assembly was dissolved in June 1990, an attempt was made by 114 of its 180 deputies on 2 July to declare Kosovo independent from Serbia and a full republic within the SFRY. This move was declared illegal by both Serbia and the SFRY, so on 7 September 111 of the deputies, meeting secretly in Kacanik/Kacanik, proclaimed an independent Republic of Kosovo. Criminal charges were subsequently brought against them. That December, Kosovo Albanians boycotted elections to the Serbian parliament.

In September 1991 the Kosovo Assembly deputies, still resisting Serbian efforts to declare their activities illegal, organized a referendum on sovereignty in which they reported an 87 per cent turnout and almost 100 per cent voting in favour. A provisional coalition government formed in October, and given diplomatic recognition on 22 October by Albania. It claimed to run its own police forces and to support its activities by collecting taxes from the Kosovo Albanian population, but had to act clandestinely to avoid the arrest of its members by Serbian police and security forces.

The first parallel elections organized in Kosovo did not take place until May 1992. By this time the wars of the Yugoslav succession had begun, the SFRY had ceased to exist, four of its constituent republics had declared their separate independence, and Serbia and Montenegro had joined in forming in April 1992 a new Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY). Within the FRY structure, both Vojvodina and Kosovo and Metohija (as it was officially called by Serbia) were officially designated as autonomous provinces, but the confrontational situation in Kosovo meant that Kosovo Albanians continued to boycott Serbian and FRY federal assembly elections, while there was no official Kosovo assembly and Serbia condemned any parallel elections among the Kosovo Albanian community as illegal.

In the May 1992 parallel elections the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), founded in September 1990 and led by Ibrahim Rugova, won most of the seats in a 130-member "constituent Republican Assembly", and Rugova was declared to be President of the Republic of Kosovo. The attempt to hold an inaugural assembly session was abandoned in June, however, in the face of action by the Serbian security forces to seal off the building.

Thereafter, international attention turned mainly to the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the outset of that conflict, the role of Serbia was generally seen by the international community as that of a bellicose protagonist. By the time of the Dayton peace agreement for Bosnia-Herzegovina in November 1995, however, the Milosevic regime in Serbia was regarded as a factor in bringing about a negotiated solution, and UN sanctions imposed on the FRY were revoked once that solution had been put in place.

In Kosovo, Rugova's approach of seeking a peaceful settlement did record one apparent success, an agreement in 1996 that an Albanian educational curriculum should be restored. This had yet to be implemented, however, and student demonstrations had been met with violent suppression, by the time the second parallel elections were organized in March 1998. These elections once again produced an overwhelming majority vote in favour of Rugova as president, although this was partly because groups other than his LDK opposed the holding of the poll at a time of crisis and escalating Serbian military action (see below). As before, the Serbian authorities denounced the elections as illegal.

The intensification of armed conflict

By the beginning of 1998, the nature of the Kosovo situation had changed. A new element had entered the equation in the form of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), and the Serbian authorities were responding with a huge increase in military force.

The declared purpose of the UCK, a Kosovo Albanian paramilitary group which claimed its first actions in 1996, was to offer resistance to Serbian police and security forces in Kosovo and to pursue separatism by armed struggle. The UCK intensified its activity in 1997 and early 1998, with attacks on police stations, police officers, Serb civilians and Kosovo Albanians working for or with the authorities, but in the two years up to mid-January 1998 it had only claimed the killing of a total of 10 Serbian police and other officials, and 11 Kosovo Albanians.

The Serbian authorities brought in special security forces in January 1998. They responded to clashes with the UCK by reprisal attacks on villages, using military helicopters and armoured personnel carriers, accompanied by brutal house-to-house raids and indiscriminate arrests. Two such attacks on villages in late February were followed by an assault on the village of Donji Prekaze/Prekazi i Poshtem (Srbica/Skenderaj municipality) in early March, where at least 54 people were killed including a local UCK leader, most of his family and other women, children and elderly men. The reprisals continued with further attacks on villages in the central Drenica region, causing many villagers to flee their homes. In this downward spiral of violence, many Kosovo Albanians, including erstwhile supporters of the LDK's non-violent stance, became UCK members or active sympathizers.

Limited international sanctions against Serbia, as threatened on 9 March 1998, were intended to back up calls by the six-country "Contact Group" (France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom and the USA) for negotiations on autonomy in place of the use of force. The deadline for compliance was postponed, but to no effect, and the sanctions were eventually introduced in late April. The UN Security Council also imposed an arms embargo under Resolution 1160 of 30 March. In Serbia, however, in a referendum in April 1998 Milosevic gained overwhelming support for his stance of rejecting any international mediation in the Kosovo conflict. Substantial additional Serbian military reinforcements were sent in to Kosovo in May 1998. Ignoring a "strong final warning" from European governments in June, Serb forces began concentrating their actions in the Drenica region and along the south-western border, using artillery to force villagers out of their homes and then going in to loot and burn them. Aid agencies estimated that some 200,000-300,000 Albanians were driven from their homes between April and September 1998.

Western countries intensified their demands for a halt to this campaign in response to the evidence of a major Serbian offensive against the UCK, and the discovery of further massacres. The US ambassador to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Christopher Hill, announced on 2 September that his attempt to promote a negotiated settlement had achieved a procedural breakthrough, in that both Milosevic and Rugova had expressed a willingness to defer consideration of the long-term future of Kosovo. Kosovo Albanian leaders produced a draft proposal later in the month for an interim arrangement in which Kosovo would settle temporarily for republican status within the FRY, short of full independence.

UN Security Council Resolution 1199 and the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement

On 23 September 1998 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1199, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The vote was 14 to 0, with China abstaining. Resolution 1199 called for an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo, an international presence to monitor it, the withdrawal of "security units used for civilian repression", and dialogue on the future of Kosovo. The Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic claimed on 28 September that all "anti-terrorist activities" had ended and that "peace reigns in Kosovo", but his claim was undermined by the lack of evidence of any withdrawal of Serbian forces, and the simultaneous discovery of three particularly shocking massacres of civilians in and near the neighbouring villages of Gornje Obrinje/Obri e Eperme (Glogovac/Gllogoc) and Donje Obrinje/Obri e Ulet (Srbica/Skenderaj).

Although Russia explicitly declared its opposition to the use of force to back up UN Resolution 1199, the use of air bombardments against the FRY for this purpose was officially approved by NATO, and a deadline issued for Serbia to comply. The deadline was repeatedly postponed in the succeeding days. On 16 October, however, the so-called Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement was announced.

This agreement was the product of protracted discussions between Milosevic and US envoy Richard Holbrooke during a succession of visits by the latter to Belgrade. Its text was not published, but its key provisions, in addition to the ending of hostilities, were threefold. All those who had fled their homes in Kosovo and become refugees were to be allowed to return. Serbian forces in Kosovo, including both army units and special forces, were to be scaled back to their pre-1999 levels. Under the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement, and an agreement between OSCE Chairman-in-Office Bronislaw Geremek (Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland) and the Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic on the same day, international observers, in the shape of a 2,000-member OSCE mission, were to be allowed into Kosovo to verify compliance. This mission, the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (OSCE-KVM), began to be deployed in the field from November

The renewed escalation of human rights violations

For two months the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement appeared to be making progress on all these provisions, despite a number of violations of the cease-fire. Meanwhile United States and European diplomats pursued their efforts to promote a Kosovo settlement, although still without including the UCK in the process.

In the last week in December and the first half of January 1999, however, three things became clear. One was that the reduction in fighting between Serb forces and the UCK had been no more than a temporary lull, which ended in December with a new Serbian offensive in the north-east. The UCK had used the lull to rearm and retrain, while a large force of Yugoslav/Serbian troops was being assembled just outside the province in apparent preparation for a spring offensive. The second was that in these circumstances the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (OSCE-KVM) was neither equipped nor mandated to play a peacekeeping role, so a 2,300-strong NATO "extraction force" was put in place just across the border in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to evacuate the monitors if necessary. The third was that atrocities against unarmed civilians had not ceased. In mid-January, 45 people - some of them children - were found murdered in Racak/Recak (Stimlje/Shtime), mostly shot in the head at close range.

It was this last development, and its immediate repercussions, which precipitated the next initiative by the six-country Contact Group. Ambassador William Walker, the head of the OSCE-KVM, was ordered out of the country by the Serbian authorities when he publicly accused them of responsibility - rejecting their claim that UCK guerrillas had been killed in a battle at Racak and their bodies then rearranged by their comrades to look like civilian victims of a massacre. Ambassador Walker refused to leave, while NATO threatened military action against the FRY unless the cease-fire was restored. In a bid to break the impasse by diplomatic means, the Contact Group then announced a conference on the future of Kosovo, to be held in Rambouillet near Paris on 6 February.

The Rambouillet negotiations

At Rambouillet, the Serbian and Albanian leaders (the latter including both LDK and UCK) were presented with the latest version of the Western plan as a basis for a negotiated settlement.

The plan stipulated that the UCK must be disarmed within three months (the provision they most strongly opposed) and all Yugoslav/Serbian troops withdrawn from Kosovo apart from 1,400 border guards and 2,500 security forces. A 30,000-member NATO "enabling force" would be deployed in Kosovo (the provision most strongly opposed by the Serbian leadership) to ensure implementation of the agreement. For a three-year interim period, Kosovo would have autonomous institutions once again, as before 1989, including its own elected assembly, president and constitutional court. There would be greater devolution of power, however, to the province's municipalities, in areas such as policing. More contentiously, the different "national communities" of Kosovo would have powers to block legislation if it threatened their national interest, and official posts would be divided up among them on a quota basis. At the end of the three years, there would be a further international meeting "to determine a mechanism for a final settlement" - a formula which did not exclude independence, although the Contact Group was known to be against it.

The Kosovo Albanian delegation eventually agreed in principle at the end of February to sign the agreement, and returned to Paris for the signing ceremony on 18 March. The Serbian side, however, did not. As fighting continued in Kosovo, and reports indicated that 30,000 more Yugoslav/Serbian troops were being deployed along with tanks and irregular militia units, the OSCE-KVM was pulled out on 20 March. NATO issued another ultimatum demanding Serbia's signature, but the Serbian parliament confirmed the rejection of the Rambouillet proposals, and on 24 March 1999 the NATO forces began their campaign of aerial attacks on FRY targets.

The NATO air campaign and the June 1999 agreement

An analysis of the situation on the ground inside Kosovo in the period from 20 March to the end of the NATO air campaign is central to the rest of this report, and is not summarized here. NATO air strikes, which inflicted considerable damage and loss of life within Yugoslavia, continued until June. The NATO action was formally suspended on June 10, once it was confirmed that Serbian forces were beginning their withdrawal under a peace plan embodied that same day in UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (on which China again abstained).

This peace plan, accepted by FRY President Milosevic and formally approved by the Serbian National Assembly on 3 June, had emerged from a series of efforts at mediation, starting with initiatives by Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin. General principles for a solution were agreed at the Bonn meeting of the Group of Eight (G-8, the seven major Western industrialized countries plus Russia) in early May, and eventually accepted by the FRY government in early June after further Russian and European Union mediation.

The basic elements of the June 1999 peace agreement began with the requirement that all Serbian forces should be withdrawn, and all refugees allowed to return. The UCK and any other armed Kosovo Albanian groups were to "end immediately all offensive actions" and comply with requirements for demilitarization. Implementation would be overseen by KFOR, an "effective international security presence with substantial NATO participation", meaning in practice a 50,000-strong joint NATO-Russian peacekeeping force, and by a 3,000-member UN civilian security force. Kosovo would have a civilian administrator, appointed by the UN Secretary-General, overseeing the establishment of "substantial autonomy" for Kosovo within the FRY and "provisional and democratic institutions" under an interim administration "pending a final settlement". No time limit was set on the life of the interim administration, nor was any specific mention made of a referendum on Kosovo's future status.


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