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LIST OF WARS: DETAILS

Yugoslavia vs NATO Forces and UCK Guerilla

Also called: Kosovo Crisis

Years: 1998-1999
Battle deaths: 2,639 [1]
Onesided violence: 992 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
Serbia, Kosovo, Yugoslavia

Published prior to 2013 | Altered: 2017-06-05 11:50:14
The term Kosovo War or Kosovo Conflict is often used to describe two sequential and at times parallel armed conflicts (a civil war followed by an international war) in the southern Serbian province called Kosovo (officially Kosovo and Metohia), part of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. These conflicts were:

1. 1996-99: Guerrilla conflict between Albanian separatists and the Serbian and Yugoslav security forces, which Albanians characterised as a national liberation struggle and Serbs saw as terrorism.
2. 1999: War between Yugoslavia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization between March 24 and June 10, 1999, during which NATO heavily bombed Yugoslav targets, Albanian fighters continued to attack Serbian forces and Kosovo Serb civilians, and Serbian/Yugoslav forces continued to fight Albanian rebels, amidst a massive displacement of the population of Kosovo

Kosovo and the rise of Slobodan Milosevic (1986-1990)

Yugoslavia’s political decay following Tito’s death was caused by many factors, not just the obvious issue of ethnicity: economic, political, constitutional and even personal issues divided the republics’ leaders. In Kosovo, however, these issues manifested themselves mainly in the form of growing ethnic tension between Serbs and Albanians. An increasingly poisonous atmosphere led to wild rumours being traded and otherwise trivial incidents being blown out of proportion.

It was against this tense background that sixteen prominent members of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU, from its Serbian initials) began work in June 1985 on a document that was eventually leaked to the public in September 1986. The SANU Memorandum, as it has become known, was hugely controversial. It focused on the political difficulties facing Serbs in Yugoslavia, pointing to Tito’s deliberate hobbling of Serbia’s power and the difficulties faced by Serbs outside Serbia proper.

The Memorandum paid special attention to Kosovo, arguing that the province’s Serbs were being subjected to "physical, political, legal and cultural genocide" in an "open and total war" that had been ongoing since the spring of 1981. It claimed that Kosovo’s status in 1986 was a worse historical defeat for the Serbs than any event since liberation from the Ottomans in 1804, thus ranking it above such catastrophes as the Nazi occupation or the First World War occupation of Serbia by the Austro-Hungarians. The Memorandum’s authors claimed that 200,000 Serbs had moved out of the province over the previous twenty years and warned that there would soon be none left "unless things change radically." The remedy, according to the Memorandum, was for "genuine security and unambiguous equality for all peoples living in Kosovo and Metohija [to be] established" and "objective and permanent conditions for the return of the expelled [Serbian] nation [to be] created." It concluded that "Serbia must not be passive and wait and see what the others will say, as it has done so often in the past."

The SANU Memorandum met with many different reactions. The Albanians saw it as a call for Serbian supremacism at a local level. Other Yugoslav nationalities - notably the Slovenes and Croats - saw a threat in the call for a more assertive Serbia. Serbs themselves were divided: many welcomed it, while the Communist old guard strongly attacked its message. One of those who denounced it was a Serbian Communist Party official named Slobodan Milosevic.

In April 1987, Slobodan Milosevic, who had been elected Chairman of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1986, travelled to Kosovo. He encountered a large crowd of riotous Serbs outside the town hall in Pristina. He seized the moment to declare to his audience that "You will not be beaten again." According to some, this was a reference not only to the repression of the (Albanian-dominated) Kosovo police but also implicitly to Serbia’s perceived inferior position within Yugoslavia. His declaration made him a national hero within Serbia virtually overnight. He used his newfound prestige to push aside his mentor and longstanding friend, Ivan Stambolic, and become President of Serbia.

Kosovo presented a significant obstacle for Milosevic’s ambitions both within Serbia and in Yugoslavia as a whole. The Serbian Assembly could not approve any republic-wide laws without the approval of its two provincial Assemblies. In Vojvodina which was mostly Serb-populated, this did not present a problem. However, the Albanian-led Communist Party in Kosovo (led after 1986 by Azem Vllasi) took a more assertive position towards the Serbian government and could be expected to put up strong opposition to any moves to reassert Serbian authority over Kosovo. The province could also help to block Milosevic at the federal level. Under the decentralized 1974 Constitution which was adopted by Tito, the Yugoslav Federal Presidency had eight members, six from the republics and two from the Serbian autonomous provinces including Kosovo. This meant that Serbia’s vote was equal to Kosovo’s - it could easily be outvoted by the other republics. The obvious solution was to ensure that Serbia controlled Kosovo’s federal representation.

For two years from 1987, Milosevic’s government stoked Serbian fears of an alliance of Albanians, Slovenes and Croats conspiring against the Serbian people. Lurid claims to that effect were aired on Belgrade television (and were responded to in just as lurid a fashion by the state television services of the other republics). More ominously, Milosevic took steps to rein in Kosovo’s political leadership. In November 1988, Kosovo’s president Azem Vllasi was arrested and the province’s communist leadership was dismissed en masse. In March 1989, Milosevic announced an "anti-bureaucratic revolution" in Kosovo and Vojvodina, curtailing their autonomy and imposing a curfew and a state of emergency in Kosovo. This was met with violent demonstrations, resulting in 24 deaths (including two policemen) when rock-throwing protesters were met with gunfire from Serbian security forces. Milosevic and his government maintained that the constitutional changes were necessary to protect Kosovo’s remaining Serbs against harassment from the Albanian majority.
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Kosovo under Serbian rule (1990-1996)

Milosevic took the process of retrenchment a stage further in 1990 when he abolished the autonomy of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Crucially, though, he did not abolish their two seats on the Federal Presidency. This therefore gave Serbia three out of eight votes on the Presidency, four when Montenegro (which was closely allied to Serbia) was counted. Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia thus had to maintain an uneasy alliance to prevent Milosevic from driving through constitutional changes. Serbia’s political changes were ratified in a 5 July 1990 referendum across the entire republic of Serbia, including Kosovo; although most Albanians voted against it, the result was a foregone conclusion given the much greater population of Serbia proper.

The impact on Kosovo was drastic. The extinction of its constitutional powers was accompanied by the abolition of its political institutions, with its assembly and government being formally disbanded. As most of Kosovo’s industry was state-owned, the changes brought a wholesale change of corporate cadres. Technically, few were sacked outright: their companies required them to sign loyalty pledges, which most Albanians would not or could not sign, although some did and remained employed in Serbian state companies right up to 1999. Most state-employed Albanians were thus replaced by Serbs, with an estimated 115,000 Albanians losing their jobs.

Albanian cultural autonomy was also drastically reduced. The only Albanian-language newspaper, Rilindja, was banned and TV and radio broadcasts in Albanian ceased. Pristina University, seen as a hotbed of Albanian nationalism, was purged: 800 lecturers at Pristina University were sacked and 22,500 of the 23,000 students expelled. Some 40,000 Serbian troops and police replaced the original Albanian-run security forces. A punitive regime was imposed that was harshly condemned as a "police state" by the outside world and likened by some to South Africa’s recently abandoned policy of apartheid. Poverty and unemployment reached catastrophic levels, with about 80% of Kosovo’s population becoming unemployed. As many as a third of adult male Albanians chose to go abroad (particularly to Germany) to find work and support their families back home with hard currency rather than increasingly worthless Yugoslav dinars.

With Kosovo’s Communist Party effectively broken up by Milosevic’s crackdown, the position of dominant Albanian political party passed to the Democratic League of Kosovo, led by the writer Ibrahim Rugova. It responded to the abolition of Kosovo’s autonomy by pursuing a policy of peaceful resistance. Rugova took the very practical line that armed resistance would be futile given Serbia’s military strength and would lead only to a bloodbath in the province. He called on the Albanian populace to boycott the Yugoslav and Serbian states by not participating in any elections, by ignoring the military draft (compulsory in Yugoslavia) and most important by not paying any taxes or duties to the State. He also called for the creation of parallel Albanian schools, clinics and hospitals. In September 1991, the shadow Kosovo Assembly organized a referendum on independence for Kosovo. Despite widespread harassment by Serbian security forces, the referendum achieved a reported 90% turnout and a 98% vote - nearly a million votes in all - which approved the creation of an independent "Republic of Kosovo". In May 1992, a second referendum elected Rugova as President of Kosovo. The Serbian government declared that both referendums were illegal and their results null and void.


The slide to war (1996-1998)

Rugova’s policy of passive resistance succeeded in keeping Kosovo quiet during the war with Slovenia, and the bloody wars in Croatia and Bosnia during the early 1990s. However, this came at the cost of increasing frustration and stagnation among the population of Kosovo. The status of Kosovo was not addressed by the 1995 Dayton Accords which had ended the war in Bosnia, and Rugova’s pleas for a United Nations peacekeeping force for Kosovo had fallen on deaf ears. Milosevic was still in place, having engineered his promotion to the presidency of the rump Yugoslavia (now consisting only of Serbia and Montenegro).

Continuing Serbian repression had radicalised many Albanians, some of whom decided that only armed resistance would effect a change in the situation. On April 22, 1996, four attacks on Serbian civilians and security personnel were carried out virtually simultaneously in several parts of Kosovo. A hitherto unknown organisation calling itself the "Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA) subsequently claimed responsibility. The nature of the KLA was at first highly mysterious; Rugova suggested that it was a setup by the Serbian secret police to justify increased repression of the Albanians (which duly occurred in the wake of the shootings). In reality it was a small, mainly clan-based but not very well organised group of radicalised Albanians, many of whom came from the Drenica region of western Kosovo. Its strategy was extremely simple and remained constant right up until the outbreak of war in 1999: to provoke the Serbian security forces into committing reprisals which in turn would boost support for the KLA and, crucially, force NATO to step in to end the bloodshed.

Most Albanians saw the KLA as legitimate "freedom fighters" whilst the Serbian government called them terrorists. Some Albanian exiles chose to support the KLA with money and weapons. Bujar Bukoshi, shadow Prime Minister in exile (in Zurich, Switzerland), created a group called AFRK (Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova) which was reported to have been disbanded and absorbed by the KLA in 1998. The response of outside powers was ambivalent: in February, 1998, the United States’ Special Representative to Yugoslavia, Robert Gelbard, denounced the KLA as a terrorist organization but neither the United States nor most other powers made any serious effort to stop money or weapons being channeled into Kosovo. There was a widespread belief that the Dayton Accords had settled the Yugoslav nightmare once and for all and many Western politicians were reluctant to open yet another Yugoslav can of worms. A six-nation "Contact Group" was established in January 1997 to coordinate international policy on Kosovo, bringing together Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States. The group was unable to agree on anything much and nothing significant was done to alleviate the growing conflict.

The situation was worsened in late 1997 after Albania collapsed into chaos following the fall of President Sali Berisha. Military stockpiles were looted with impunity by criminal gangs, with much of the hardware ending up in western Kosovo and so boosting the growing KLA arsenal. The conflict soon took on the character of a guerrilla war, although it was still largely confined to western Kosovo. Against the KLA, the Serbian authorities deployed the regular Serbian police and the heavily armed paramilitary police of the Serbian Ministry of the Interior (MUP), which had already acquired an unpleasant reputation for brutality. It also emerged that militia were becoming involved, under the control of the secret police and the ultra-nationalist gangster Arkan, who had been elected to the Serbian Assembly by the Kosovo Serbs in December 1992. The predictable result was that the two sides embarked on a cycle of bloody attacks followed by bloody reprisals.

By the summer of 1998, the violence had left hundreds dead and driven possibly as many 300,000 people from their homes, though at the time the BBC said 25,000 virtually all displaced within Kosovo. The larger number of refugees only happened after NATO started bombing and included a higher proportion of Serbs than of Albanians, though naturally the Serbs did not flee to NATO/KLA territory. Refugee Albanians were fleeing into Macedonia, threatening the fragile unity of that country. This presented a potentially catastrophic strategic dilemma for NATO and the European Union: if civil war broke out in Macedonia between that country’s Slavs and Albanians, the security interests of all four of its neighbours, Serbia, Albania, Greece and Bulgaria would be jeopardized. All four countries had potential territorial claims on Macedonia and Turkey had also made known its interest in protecting the interest of its former subjects, the Albanians. The overspill from a war in Kosovo thus directly threatened the whole of the southern Balkans and presented a major strategic threat to NATO and the EU. Both organisations, plus the United States and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) decided that something had to be done.

The international community sought to end the fighting, persuade the KLA to drop its bid for independence and convince Milosevic to permit NATO peacekeeping troops to enter Kosovo. They only succeeded in the first objective and then only partially: a ceasefire was brokered, commencing on October 25, 1998. A large contingent of unarmed OSCE peace monitors moved into Kosovo. Their inadequacy was evident from the start. They were cruelly nicknamed the "clockwork oranges" in reference to their brightly coloured vehicles (in English, a "clockwork orange" signifies a useless object.) The ceasefire broke down within a matter of weeks and fighting resumed in December 1998.

Racak and the Rambouillet Conference (January-March 1999)

KLA attacks and Serbian reprisals continued throughout the winter of 1998-99, culminating on January 15, 1999 with the mass killing of 45 Albanians in the village of Racak during a joint operation by the Serbian police and Yugoslav army. (See the separate article on the Racak incident.) The incident was immediately (before the investigation) condemned as a massacre by the Western countries and the United Nations Security Council, and later became the basis of one of the charges of war crimes leveled against Milosevic and his top officials. The details of what happened at Racak are still somewhat controversial. Serbian sources claimed that the Albanians had died in battle but ICTY war crimes prosecutors were able to present a strong case at Milosevic’s subsequent war crimes trial that some of the victims had been murdered. Although the war crimes tribunal has not yet ruled on the issue, it is fair to say that the massacre narrative is broadly accepted in the countries whose governments supported the subsequent NATO intervention.

NATO decided that the conflict could only be settled by introducing a proper military peacekeeping force under the auspices of NATO, to forcibly restrain the two sides. A carefully coordinated set of diplomatic initiatives was announced simultaneously on January 30, 1999:

* NATO issued a statement announcing that it was prepared to launch air strikes against Yugoslav targets "to compel compliance with the demands of the international community and [to achieve] a political settlement". While this was most obviously a threat to the Milosevic government, it also included a coded threat to the Albanians: any decision would depend on the "position and actions of the Kosovo Albanian leadership and all Kosovo Albanian armed elements in and around Kosovo." In effect, NATO was saying to the Serbs "make peace or we’ll bomb you" and to the Albanians "make peace or we’ll abandon you to the Serbs."

* The Contact Group issued a set of "non-negotiable principles" which made up a package known as "Status Quo Plus" - effectively the restoration of Kosovo’s pre-1990 autonomy within Serbia, plus the introduction of democracy and supervision by international organisations. It also called for a peace conference to be held in February 1999 at the Château de Rambouillet outside Paris.

The Rambouillet talks began on February 6, 1999 and were intended to conclude by February 19; in any event, they continued until March 19 before breaking up with no agreement reached. In the view of some of those present, neither the Serbian nor the Albanian side went to Rambouillet with any real intention of reaching an agreement. The Albanian delegation was very senior but was chronically unable to agree a position, perhaps not surprising given that it represented a spectrum of opinion that included the pacifist Rugova and the hardline Demaci. The Serbian delegation was led by then president of Serbia Milan Milutinovic, while Milosevic himself remained in Belgrade. This was in contrast to the 1995 Dayton conference that ended war in Bosnia, where Milosevic negotiated in person. The absence of Milosevic was interpreted as a sign that the real decisions were being made back in Belgrade, a move that aroused criticism in Serbia as well as abroad; Kosovo’s Serbian Orthodox bishop Artemije traveled all the way to Rambouillet to protest that the delegation was wholly unrepresentative.

The biggest problem for both sides was that the Contact Group’s non-negotiable principles were mutually unacceptable. The Albanians were absolutely unwilling to accept a solution that would retain Kosovo as part of Serbia. The Serbs did not want to see the pre-1990 status quo restored, and were implacably opposed to any international role in the governance of the province. The negotiations thus became a somewhat cynical game of musical chairs, each side trying to avoid being blamed for the breakdown of the talks. To add to the farce, the NATO Contact Group countries were desperate to avoid having to make good on their threat of force - Greece and Italy were strongly opposed to the whole idea and there was vigorous opposition to military action in every NATO country. Consequently, when the talks failed to achieve an agreement by the original deadline of February 19, they were extended by another month.

The two paragraphs above, however, are partially contradicted by the historical evidence. In particular, the statement (http://www.ohr.int/other-doc/contact-g/default.asp?content_id=3560) by the co-chairmen on the 23 February 1999 that the negotiations have led to a consensus on substantial autonomy for Kosovo, including on mechanisms for free and fair elections to democratic institutions, for the governance of Kosovo, for the protection of human rights and the rights of members of national communities ; and for the establishment of a fair judicial system. They went on to say that a political framework is now in place leaving the further work of finalizing the implementation Chapters of the Agreement, including the modalities of the invited international civilian and military presence in Kosovo.

The tilting of NATO towards the officially terrorist (according to the US government) KLA organisation is chronicled in the BBC Television "MORAL COMBAT : NATO AT WAR" program (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/static/events/panorama/transcripts/transcript_12_03_00.txt), culminating in the admission of General Klaus Naumann (Chairman of NATO Military Committee) that Ambassador Walker stated in the NAC (North Atlantic Council) that the majority of violations was caused by the KLA.

In the end, on 18 March, 1999 the Albanian, American and British delegation signed what became known as the Rambouillet Accords while the Serbian and Russian delegations refused. The accords called for NATO administration of Kosovo as an autonomous province within Yugoslavia; a force of 30,000 NATO troops to maintain order in Kosovo; an unhindered right of passage for NATO troops on Yugoslav territory, including Kosovo; and immunity for NATO and its agents to Yugoslav law. The American and British delegations must have known that the new version would never be accepted by the Serbs or the Contact Group. These latter provisions were much the same as had been applied to Bosnia for the SFOR (Stabilisation Force) mission there. However, the Albanians had very nearly refused - and did refuse in February, prompting a two-week break in the talks - before the KLA hardliners finally caved in. Their motives for signing are still somewhat murky. Some analysts believe they signed the agreement only because they knew that it would not be put into effect and that they truly would not settle for anything other than full independence. Another factor may have been the dramatic appeal made to them by the foreign minister of Albania, Paskal Milo, who warned the delegates that Kosovo faced "extinction" if agreement was not reached, and the heavy pressure applied by United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The Albanians may also have gambled that the Serbs would not sign under any circumstances.

If the accords did not go far enough to fully satisfy the Albanians, they were much too radical for the Serbs, who responded by substituting a drastically revised text that even the Russians found unacceptable. It sought to reopen the painstakingly negotiated political status of Kosovo and deleted all of the proposed implementation measures. Among many other changes in the proposed new version, it eliminated the entire chapter on humanitarian assistance and reconstruction, removed virtually all international oversight and dropped any mention of invoking "the will of the people [of Kosovo]" in determining the final status of the province. Even the word "peace" was deleted. The Serbian delegation must have known that the new version would never be accepted by the Albanians or the Contact Group. It was immediately apparent that Milosevic had decided to call NATO’s bluff, believing that the alliance would either not make good on its threat or would do no more than launch a few pinprick raids that could easily be absorbed. Perhaps most fundamentally, Milosevic appears to have calculated that he had more to lose by making peace than waging war - although the KLA was undefeated, its defeat was nonetheless just a matter of time in the face of the far more powerful Serbian and Yugoslav security forces.

Critics of the Kosovo war have claimed that the Serbian refusal was prompted by unacceptably broad terms in the access rights proposed for the NATO peacekeeping force. These would allow (in the words of the agreement’s Appendix B) "free and unrestricted access throughout [Yugoslavia] including .. the right of bivouac, maneuver, billet, and utilization of any areas or facilities as required for support, training and operations." This was based on standard UN peacekeeping agreements such as that in force in Bosnia, but would have given broader rights of access than were really needed, and onto the entire territory of Yugoslavia, not just the province. It has been claimed that Appendix B would have authorised what would amount to a NATO occupation of the whole of Yugoslavia, and that its presence in the accords was the cause of the breakdown of the talks.

Events proceeded rapidly after the failure at Rambouillet. The international monitors from the OSCE withdrew on March 22, for fear of the monitors’ safety ahead of the anticipated NATO bombing campaign. On March 23, the Serbian assembly accepted the principle of autonomy for Kosovo [2] (http://www.serbia-info.com/news/1999-03/24/10030.html) but condemned the accords in the harshest terms as a "fraudulent document" signed by the "separatist-terrorist delegation". The following day, March 24, NATO bombing began.


The NATO bombing campaign

NATO’s bombing campaign lasted from March 24 to June 10, 1999, involving up to 1,000 aircraft operating mainly from bases in Italy and aircraft carriers stationed in the Adriatic. Tomahawk cruise missiles were also extensively used, fired from aircraft, ships and submarines. The United States was, inevitably, the dominant member of the coalition against Serbia, although all of the NATO members were involved to some degree - even Greece, which played a crucial role despite publicly opposing the war. Over the ten weeks of the conflict, NATO aircraft flew over 38,000 combat missions.

The proclaimed goal of the NATO operation was summed up by its spokesman as "Serbs out, peacekeepers in, refugees back". That is, Serbian troops would have to leave Kosovo and be replaced by international peacekeepers in order to ensure that the Albanian refugees could return to their homes. However, the summary had an unfortunate double meaning which caused NATO considerable embarrassment after the war, when over 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanian minorities fled or were expelled from the province. A less official reason for the war was given by Madeleine Albright when she said "what’s the use of having the world’s best military when you don’t get to use them". A remark which allegedly caused the US army Chief of Staff to question her sanity. It is also suggested that a small victorious war would help give NATO a new role.

The campaign was initially designed to destroy Serbian air defences and high-value military targets. It did not go very well at first, with bad weather hindering many sorties early on. NATO had seriously underestimated Milosevic’s will to resist: few in Brussels thought that the campaign would last more than a few days, and although the initial bombardment was more than just a pinprick, it was nowhere near the concentrated bombardments seen in Baghdad in 1991 and 2003. On the ground, the fighting worsened and within a week of the war starting, over 300,000 Kosovo Albanians had fled into neighboring Albania and Macedonia, with many thousands more displaced within Kosovo. By April, the United Nations was reporting that 850,000 people – the vast majority of them Albanians – had fled their homes.

The cause of the refugee exodus has been the subject of considerable controversy, not least because it forms the basis of United Nations war crimes charges against Slobodan Milosevic and other officials responsible for directing the Kosovo conflict. The Serbian side and its Western supporters claimed that the refugee outflows were caused by mass panic in the Kosovo Albanian population, and that the exodus was generated principally by fear of NATO bombs. It was also alleged that the exodus was encouraged by KLA guerillas, and that in some cases the KLA issued direct orders to Albanians to flee. Many eyewitness accounts from both Serbs and Albanians identified Serbian security forces and paramilitaries as the culprits, responsible for systematically emptying towns and villages of their Albanian inhabitants. There were certainly some well-documented instances of mass expulsions, as happened in Pristina at the end of March when tens of thousands of people were rounded up at gunpoint and loaded onto trains, before being dumped at the Macedonian border. Other towns, such as Pec, were systematically burned.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer claimed that the refugee crisis had been produced by a Serbian plan codenamed "Operation Horseshoe". While the existence of a plan of that name remains controversial, the United Nations and international human rights organisations were convinced that the refugee crisis was the result of a deliberate policy of ethnic cleansing. A postwar statistical analysis of the patterns of displacement, conducted by Patrick Ball of the American Association for the Advancement of Science [3] (http://shr.aaas.org/kosovo/pk/toc.html), found that there was a direct correlation between Serbian security force operations and refugee outflows, with NATO operations having very little effect on the displacements. There was other evidence of the refugee crisis having been deliberately manufactured: many refugees reported that their identity cards had been confiscated by security forces, making it much harder for them to prove that they were bona fide Yugoslav citizens. Indeed, since the conflict ended Serbian sources have claimed that many of those who joined the refugee return were in fact Albanians from outside Kosovo.

It is unclear what Milosevic may have hoped to achieve by expelling Kosovo’s Albanian inhabitants. One possibility is that he wished to replace the Albanian population with refugee Serbs from Bosnia and Croatia, thereby achieving the "Serbianization" of the province. It is quite clear that NATO achieved a considerable propaganda advantage by the flight, whether desired or not. If so, if desired it was a great success, as it convinced NATO’s member states populations that they had to win the conflict. Europe was already finding it hard to cope with previous waves of refugees and asylum seekers from the Balkans, and a further wave of refugees could have dangerously destabilised southeastern Europe. It is arguable that the war in Kosovo was not initially in the direct interests of the NATO states, but the refugee crisis made it so. The television pictures of thousands of refugees streaming across the border were an invaluable propaganda boost for NATO, making it much easier for the alliance to argue that "Serbian ethnic cleansing" was a greater evil than NATO bombardment.

NATO military operations switched increasingly to attacking Serbian units on the ground - hitting targets as small as individual tanks and artillery pieces - as well as continuing with the strategic bombardment. This activity was, however, heavily constrained by politics, as each target needed to be approved by all nineteen members states. Montenegro was bombed on several occasions but NATO eventually desisted in order to prop up the precarious position of its anti-Milosevic leader, Milo Djukanovic. So-called "dual-use" targets, of use to both civilians and the military, were attacked: this included bridges across the Danube, factories, power stations, telecommunications facilities and – particularly controversially – the headquarters of Yugoslavian Leftists, a political party led by Milosevic’s wife, and the Serbian state television broadcasting tower. Some saw these actions as violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions in particular. NATO however argued that these facilities were potentially useful to the Serbian military and that their bombing was therefore justified. The alliance also maintained that it tried very hard to avoid civilian casualties during its bombing campaign.
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Kosovo Albanian refugees were hit by NATO

At the start of May, a NATO aircraft attacked an Albanian refugee convoy, allegedly believing it was a Serbian military convoy, killing around 50 people. It took NATO five days to finally admit its responsibility in this, calling it a mistake, but the Serbs accused NATO of deliberately attacking the refugees. On May 7, NATO bombs hit the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, killing several Chinese diplomats and outraging Chinese public opinion. The United States and NATO later apologized for the bombing, saying that it occurred because of an outdated map provided by the CIA. This was contradicted by a joint report from the Observer (UK) and Politiken (Denmark) newspapers [4] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,2763,203214,00.html) which claimed that NATO intentionally bombed the embassy because it was being used as a relay station for Yugoslav army radio signals. The bombing strained relations between China and NATO countries and provoked angry demonstrations outside Western embassies in Beijing.


Electricity and water supplies were bombed

By the start of June, the conflict seemed little closer to a resolution and NATO countries began to think seriously about a ground operation - an invasion of Kosovo. This would have to be organised very quickly, as there was little time before winter set in and much work would have to be done to improve the roads from the Greek and Albanian ports to the envisaged invasion routes through Macedonia and northeastern Albania. At the same time, however, Finnish and Russian negotiators continued to try to persuade Milosevic to back down. He finally recognised that NATO was serious in its resolve to end the conflict one way or another and that Russia would not step in to defend Serbia. Faced with little alternative, Milosevic accepted the conditions offered by a Finnish-Russian mediation team and agreed to a military presence within Kosovo headed by the UN, but incorporating NATO troops.


Reaction to the war

The legitimacy of NATO’s bombing campaign in Kosovo has been the subject of much debate. NATO did not have the backing of the United Nations to use force in Yugoslavia but justified its actions on the basis of an "international humanitarian emergency". Criticism was also drawn by the fact that the NATO charter specifies that NATO is an organization created for defence of its members, but in this case it was used to attack a non-NATO country which was not directly threatening any NATO member. NATO countered this argument by claiming that instability in the Balkans was a direct threat to the security interests of NATO members, and military action was therefore justified by the NATO charter.

Many on the left of Western politics saw the NATO campaign as a sign of US aggression and imperialism, while right-wingers criticised it as being irrelevant to their countries’ national security interests. Veteran anti-war campaigners such as Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, Justin Raimondo, and Tariq Ali were prominent in opposing the campaign. However, in comparison with the anti-war protests against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the campaign against the war in Kosovo aroused much less public support. The television pictures of refugees being driven out of Kosovo made a vivid and simple case for NATO’s actions, very unlike the debatable case made for the invasion of Iraq. The personalities were also very different - the NATO nations were mostly led by centre-left and moderate leaders, most prominently President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, making the politics of the situation far less clear-cut than was the case with the much more controversial George W. Bush four years later. Anti-war protests were generally confined to the far left and Serbian emigrés, with many other left-wingers supporting the campaign on humanitarian grounds.

There was, however, criticism from all parts of the political spectrum for the way that NATO conducted the campaign. NATO officials sought to portray it as a "clean war" using precision weapons. The US Department of Defense claimed that, up to June 2, 99.6% of the 20,000 bombs and missiles used had hit their targets. However, the use of technologies such as depleted uranium ammunition and cluster bombs was highly controversial, as was the bombing of oil refineries and chemical plants, which led to accusations of "environmental warfare". Allegedly, many deformed babies were born after the war, and the BBC has estimated that around 100,000 cancer deaths will result from this pollution. The slow pace of progress during the war was also heavily criticised. Many believed that NATO should have mounted an all-out campaign from the start, rather than starting with a relatively small number of strikes and combat aircraft.

The choice of targets was highly controversial. The destruction of bridges over the Danube greatly disrupted shipping on the river for months afterwards, causing serious economic damage to countries along the length of the river. Industrial facilities were also attacked, damaging the economies of many towns. In fact, as the Serbian opposition later complained, the Serbian military was using civilian factories as weapons plants: the Sloboda vacuum cleaner factory in the town of Cacak also housed a tank repair facility, while the Zastava plant in Kragujevac made both cars and Kalashnikov rifles. Perhaps the most controversial deliberate attack of the war was that made against the headquarters of Serbian television on April 23, which killed at least fourteen people, all civilians. NATO justified the attack on the grounds that the Serbian television headquarters was part of the Milosevic regime’s "propaganda machine". Opponents of Milosevic inside Serbia charged that the managers of the state TV station had been forewarned of the attack but ordered staff to remain inside the building despite an air raid alert.

Within Yugoslavia, opinion on the war was (unsurprisingly) split between highly critical among Serbs and highly supportive among Albanians - although not all Albanians felt that way; some appear to have blamed NATO for provoking Serbian violence. Although Milosevic was increasingly unpopular because of the Serbian defeats in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, the NATO campaign created a mood of national unity. Milosevic did not leave matters entirely to chance, however. Many opposition supporters feared for their lives, particularly after the murder of the dissident journalist Slavko Curuvija on April 11, an act widely blamed on Milosevic’s secret police. In Montenegro, President Milo Djukanovic - who opposed both the NATO bombardment and Serbian actions in Kosovo - publicly expressed fear of a "creeping coup" by Milosevic supporters.

Opinion in Yugoslavia’s neighbours was much more mixed. Macedonia was the only Yugoslav republic apart from Montenegro not to have fought a war with Serbia and had tense relations between a Slav majority and a large Albanian minority. Its government did not approve of Milosevic’s actions, but it was also not very sympathetic towards the Albanian refugees. Albania was wholly supportive of NATO’s actions, as might be expected given the ethnic ties between Albanians on both sides of the border. Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria granted overflight rights to NATO aircraft and turned a blind eye to occasional territorial violations, including the embarrassing incident in which a stray NATO missile landed in a suburb of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Hungary was a new member of NATO and supported the campaign, although it was unenthusiastic about it. Across the Adriatic, Italian public and political opinion was against the war, but the Italian government nonetheless allowed NATO full use of Italian air bases. In Greece, popular opposition to the war reached 96% (http://www.hri.org/news/greek/mpa/1999/99-04-17.mpa.html).

One of the most intriguing questions still unanswered about the war is what happened in Bosnia. It was thought at the time by some NATO officials that Milosevic might try to spread the war to Bosnia in order to tie up NATO on two fronts. At the beginning of the war, two Yugoslav MiG-29 fighters had flown into eastern Bosnia combating NATO planes, but were shot down by NATO aircraft. NATO intelligence got wind of the Bosnian Serb Army apparently being ordered by Belgrade to join the conflict against NATO airplanes and acted immediately to forestall it, blockading Bosnian Serb weapons depots. British General Mike Willcocks, the deputy commander of the NATO SFOR peacekeeping force, met Bosnian Serb chief of staff General Momir Talic to warn against any action, but was told that Talic had refused to comply with Belgrade’s instructions for fear of NATO retaliation. In the event, Bosnia was quiet during the Kosovo war.

Consequences of the war

When the war ended on June 10, it left Kosovo in chaos and Yugoslavia as a whole facing an unknown future.


Aftermath

The most immediate problem - the refugees - was largely resolved very quickly: within three weeks, over 500,000 Albanian refugees had returned home. By November 1999, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, 808,913 out of 848,100 had returned. However, much of the remaining Serb population of Kosovo fled or was driven out by revenge attacks. Gypsies, Turks and Gorans were also driven out after being blamed by Albanians for siding with the Serbs. The Yugoslav Red Cross had registered 247,391 mostly Serbian refugees by November. The new exodus was a severe embarrassment to NATO, which had established a peacekeeping force of 45,000 under the auspices of the United Nations Mission In Kosovo (UNMIK). Kosovo’s Serbian population was soon reduced by over 75%, with NATO apparently unable to provide much security to Serbs outside a few enclaves, most notably the northern town of Mitrovica and the surrounding countryside. Most Serbian refugees have been unable to return and NATO has not yet been able to provide returnees with security guarantees.

The war inflicted many casualties. Yugoslavia claimed that NATO attacks caused between 1,200 and 5,700 civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch claims a total of only 500 civilian deaths occurred in 90 separate incidents. NATO acknowledged killing at most 1,500 civilians. The majority of deaths appear to have been within Kosovo itself; there were up to 5,000 military casualties according to NATO estimates, while the Serbian figure is around 1,000. Large numbers of Albanian civilians were also killed, although the exact numbers are unclear. Early predictions of hundreds of thousands of deaths proved untrue, but in the months after the war some 4,500 mostly Albanian bodies were dug up around Kosovo. Some alleged mass graves were also found in Serbia itself, on Yugoslav military bases or dumped in the Danube. The total number of Albanian dead is generally claimed to be around 10,000, although several foreign forensic teams were unable to verify more than a few hundred dead, and some of those appeared to be Serbs rather than Albanians. The largest mass grave so far found is in Dragodan, an Albanian suburb of Pristina. Those bodies so far identified are of Serbs, Gypsies and anti-KLA Albanians, some, or possibly all, of whom were alive when NATO moved in. While a "mass grave" normally means two or more bodies buried together the ICTY has not classified this as a mass grave but as 210 separate graves in the same place. One explanation is that some of the largest mass graves were cleared before the war’s end in an apparent effort to obliterate potential war crimes evidence though it would be amazingly difficult to remove microscopic forensic evidence of the presence of so many bodies. Another explanation is that the whole story is a deliberate lie. Shortly after Nato started bombing the US State Dept issued a claim the 500,000 Albanian men were "missing" and by implication dead. The International Red Cross compiled a list of over 3,000 missing Albanians. Most of them turned out to be prisoners transferred to Serbia, and have been released, although some 1,000 are reported to still be in Serbia today. Around 1,500 Serbian civilians were reported missing, believed dead.

SOURCES: FATALITY DATA

Data Sources

[1] Battle deaths: UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v. 5-2016 (link) (1989-2015) #218
Low: 1,728 High: 5,090

[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2014 (1989-2013)(link) (1989-) including actors: Government of Serbia (Yugoslavia)
Low: 992 High: 3,321



[2] Onesided violence: UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2012, 1989-2011 #345

More about sources

NOTE ON NATION DATA

NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.

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