219. KFOR's Record in Kosovo

By
Sabrina P Ramet

The undeclared war between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, initiated by NATO on March 24, 1999, was formally ended on June 9, 1999, with the signing of a military technical agreement under which the Kosovo International Security Force (KFOR) obtained a legal foundation.

On June 10, 1999, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1244, which "reconfirms the commitment of all member states to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia," even while pledging to secure "substantial autonomy and self-government" for Kosovo.

The challenges for Kosovo's would-be protectors have been staggering. Belgrade's security forces had, in the course of 1998-99, scorched the province with a thoroughness reminiscent of William Tecumseh Sherman's march to the sea, while NATO's bombardment had caused further damage. According to U.N. food agencies, Kosovo lost sixty-five percent of its agricultural produce and livestock as a result of the war in spring 1999, with wheat production in 1999 adequate to meet only thirty percent of the province's needs. In addition, some 120,000 houses had been destroyed or damaged by Serbian forces. Estimates of the cost to rebuilt the province's economy have ranged from $2 billion to $5 billion.

A second challenge, quite apart from the confirmed deaths of some 12,000 Kosovar Albanians between February 1998 and June 1999, was the displacement and disappearance of locals. By early August 1999, nearly ninety percent of the Albanians who had fled the province between 1998 and 1999 had returned (700,000 from neighboring countries and 30,000 from countries outside the region). On the other hand, roughly 2,000 Kosovar Albanians remained incarcerated in Serbian prisons, having been taken hostage by Serbian forces in spring 1999, while by the end of July, more than 80,000 of the roughly 200,000 Serbs living in the province had fled Kosovo under Albanian pressure.

A third challenge has had to do with infrastructure, particularly education and the legal system. For a decade, Kosovo's Albanians had relied on an underground educational system operating out of people's homes, in conditions of extreme scarcity. In addition, in the mid-1990s, Serbian authorities had pulped Albanian-language books from the Pristina National Library in an effort to erase cultural memory. The damage, however, was not limited to the National Library of Kosovo: about two-thirds of Kosovo's 180 libraries were said to have been "annihilated" between 1990 and 1999, during which period Serbian authorities destroyed more than 900,000 books, almost half of all library books in Kosovo. An additional 263,322 books were destroyed by fire during NATO's aerial campaign in spring 1999. The International Federation of Library Associations estimated that it would require the infusion of at least $6.7 million to rehabilitate Kosovo's libraries. Where school books are concerned, the international community was still arranging for the printing of some 3.2 million copies of more than 200 different textbooks, even as the school year approached.

With the legal system also in disarray and widely held in contempt, the U.N. Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) set about drafting a penal code, setting up 47 courts, training judges, and establishing a detention system. The Kosovo Law Center, established by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in June 2000 as a non-partisan center for legal research and publisher of all laws, regulations, and decrees, is seen as a building block for establishing the rule of law in the province. UNMIK also undertook to train local recruits to serve in a new Kosovo Police Service (KPS). The first 200 graduates - Serbian and Albanian women and men - received their diplomas in ceremonies on September 7, 1999. As of October 30, 2000, there were 4,130 UNMIK police officers stationed in Kosovo, alongside 2,549 KPS officers. But even as recently as October 2000, the OSCE Legal Systems Monitoring Service, having completed a six-month review of the judicial system, concluded that Kosovo's criminal justice system was below international standards and that there was "compelling evidence" of judicial bias against Kosovo Serb defendants.

The fourth challenge, criminality, is closely associated with the aforementioned need to develop respected legal institutions and enforcement agencies. Here, although crime rates remain high, there are at least some positive trends. The murder rate, for example, declined from more than 50 per week in June 1999 to about three per week in September 2000. The incidence of arson has also declined from an average of 14 per week during the period January - March 2000 to seven per week during the period July - mid-September 2000. On the other hand, the incidence of kidnapping increased from 2.5 per week to 3.5 per week over the same period, while the frequency of assaults edged gradually upwards peaking at 82 per week in early July and mid- August.

Fifth, the Kosovo conflict left many locals with mental health problems. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in summer 2000 found that forty-three percent of 1,358 Kosovar Albanians surveyed displayed signs of psychiatric disorder.

Sixth, there was the most immediate challenge of confiscating the weapons held by paramilitaries in the province and establishing KFOR's unchallenged ability to assure a secure environment. Although paramilitaries were not permitted under the military technical agreement signed by Belgrade and the NATO alliance, the Albanians were quick to point out that they had not been signatories to the agreement and for a few days there was some uncertainty as to the willingness of the leadership of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) to comply with this requirement. By June 19, however, NATO commanders had reached a tentative agreement with KLA leaders that the rebel force would be disbanded and that it would surrender its arms. But compliance has been incomplete and confiscations of small firearms, grenades, and other weapons remain a deadly occurrence. Although most of these confiscations have involved Albanian-held weaponry, KFOR peacekeeping troops reported that they had found 13 AK-47 assault rifles, one light anti-tank weapon, and various other armaments in a search of two Serbian villages in Kosovo on November 1.

THE IMPACT OF MILOSEVIC'S FALL

As late as April 2000, Ibrahim Rugova warned the international community that war would break out once again in the event that the international community should attempt to place Kosovo once more under Yugoslav authority. Indeed, there was a clear consensus among all of Kosovo's Albanian politicians that independence for Kosovo, within its established borders, was the only acceptable option.

Then came Milosevic's ouster on October 5. Vojislav Kostunica, the new FRY president, had a reputation for legalism to the point of fastidiousness, integrity, and honesty. Despite repeated vague allusions to his being a "nationalist," the international community was eager to show its readiness to rebuild diplomatic and economic ties with post-Milosevic Yugoslavia. For their part, Kosovo's Albanians worried that their best chance for independence may have passed and rejected Kostunica to the man. "Nothing has changed in Serbia," Baton Haxhiu, editor-in-chief of Koha Ditore, a widely respected Albanian-language newspaper in the province, told The Los Angeles Times. "It's just the transfer of power from one nationalist side to another nationalist side."

An Associated Press report released on October 15 only further fueled Albanian fears. According to this report, the U.S. government was backing a formula under which Kosovo would obtain republic status within the Yugoslav federation, alongside Serbia and Montenegro. To counter the fears stirred up by this report, U.S. Special Envoy to the Balkans Jim O'Brien met with the National Albanian American Council on October 17 and denied that the U.S. was supporting any such plan. O'Brien left the final resolution of the question open, though he referred to the need for respect for the procedures outlined in UNSC Resolution 1244.

For his part, Kostunica sent out mixed signals, repeatedly avowing that Kosovo cannot be allowed to go its own way, leaving Serbia behind, but also averring that he could imagine Serbia either with Kosovo or without Kosovo, expressing his interest in meeting with Rugova, releasing Kosovo pediatrician Flora Brovina from prison, and hinting that the remaining Albanians still in Serbia's prisons might soon be released. Kostunica took an even bigger step in late October, by reportedly admitting that Serbian forces had perpetrated "genocide" in Kosovo and declaring that he, as the new FRY president, accepted "his share of responsibility for the crimes of Slobodan Milosevic on behalf of the Serbs." Coming within his first month in office, this was a brave and important statement, offering some hope that Serbs might soon begin the painful task of confronting their own recent past. Dusan Janjic, of the Ethnic Relations Forum based in Belgrade, welcomed Kostunica's comments as they had been reported in a CBS "60 minutes" interview segment, saying that this acknowledgment provided "a great relief for many people." Among Serb officials and the general public, however, the response was mixed, and subsequently, Kostunica's office released a statement disputing the broadcast, claiming that the few minutes extracted from the lengthy interview he had granted CBS were "taken completely out of context," and that the broadcast included "a series of untruths and words which President Kostunica did not use." This disclaimer cast some doubt on Kostunica's intentions. One possible explanation is that in fact he had made the statement in good faith but had later decided, on the basis of the mixed reception the broadcast received in Serbia, that it was too early to issue such a statement.

ALTERNATIVE FUTURES

In spite of the transient honeymoon in relations between Western leaders and Kostunica and in spite of Russian opposition to the idea, Kosovar independence has continued to gain momentum, with numerous Western scholars and public figures endorsing the concept. A key development was the filing of an independent commission's report on Kosovo with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on October 23, 2000. Entitled "The Kosovo Report: Conflict, International Responses, Lessons Learned", the report was the product of a commission chaired by Justice Richard Goldstone of South Africa and Carl Tham, Secretary-General of the Olof Palme International Center in Stockholm; the report recommended independence for the long- troubled province. While some Serbs remain adamant that they will never give up Kosovo, other Serbs are coming around to the idea that the best conceivable solution would be to partition Kosovo at the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, with areas north of the Ibar River falling to Serbia. To say that Albanian leaders resist this notion would be an understatement.

In fact, the question of Kosovo's future involves four interlocking questions: whether Kosovo should be partitioned or remain integral; whether Kosovo should become independent or remain under Yugoslav sovereignty or whether there is some third option, as hinted by Carl Bildt's advocacy of "layered sovereignty" for Kosovo; whether Serb and Romany refugees from Kosovo should be encouraged to return, in hopes of reviving the multi-ethnic Kosovo of times past; and how long and with what role the international community should maintain its presence in the area.

On the last of these points, a proposal by presidential candidate George W. Bush, floated by his national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice in late October, to pull American troops out of the Balkans, provoked such alarm in European capitals, even to the extent of calling into question the continued existence of NATO, that Bush was compelled to retract his proposal. In fact, the international presence may be required in the region for some years to come and, as Ivo Daalder has noted in an opinion piece for The Los Angeles Times, America's inclusion in any such international presence is "absolutely crucial."

Partition is probably the most slippery of these points, insofar as eventual independence for at least part of Kosovo is all but a foregone conclusion. But if partition is to be considered, what would be the criteria for partition? Current population dispersal? The location of such Serbian holy shrines as have not yet been destroyed? The distribution of mineral wealth? Some other criteria? Or a combination of these? Whatever the formula proposed, it is certain to encounter impassioned Albanian opposition.

And finally, there is the question of restoring the Kosovo that existed before Milosevic - the Kosovo where Muslim Albanians would join Orthodox Serbs in joint pilgrimages to Orthodox shrines. But can anyone be so naive as to believe that the hatreds which have been sown by a decade of discrimination, repression, beatings, interrogations, house searches, vandalism, arson, murder on a large scale, and ethnic cleansing can be set aside even long enough for Serbs and Albanians to look beyond all of their sufferings?

So ultimately, Kosovo, within whatever borders may eventually be finalized, will be independent. It will be an independence born out of trauma and suffering, tragedy and bloodshed. But as Adem Demaqi, the 64-year-old political activist, told the New York Times in August 1999, "It was impossible to change this situation without tragedy and bloodshed."

Dr. Ramet spoke together with Andrew Michta, Aleksa Djilas and Steven Burg at a November 17, 2000 Colloquium entitled "Five Years of Peacekeeping in the Balkans: What Have We Achieved?" The above is a summary of her presentation. Meeting Report #219.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant