Conflict Background

In 1999 Kosovo was a province in southern Serbia with a mixed population of which the majority were ethnic Albanians. Until 1989, the region enjoyed a high degree of autonomy within the former Yugoslavia, when Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic altered the status of the region, removing its autonomy and bringing it under the direct control of Belgrade, the Serbian capital. The Kosovar Albanians strenuously opposed the move.

During 1998, open conflict between Serbian military and police forces and Kosovar Albanian forces resulted in the deaths of over 1,500 Kosovar Albanians and forced 400,000 people from their homes. The international community became gravely concerned about the escalating conflict, its humanitarian consequences, and the risk of it spreading to other countries. President Milosevic's disregard for diplomatic efforts aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis and the destabilizing role of militant Kosovar Albanian forces was also of concern.

On 28 May 1998, the North Atlantic Council, meeting at Foreign Minister level, set out NATO's two major objectives with respect to the crisis in Kosovo, namely:

  • to help to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis by contributing to the response of the international community;
  • to promote stability and security in neighboring countries with particular emphasis on Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1).

     
NATO Secretary General Javier Solana (NATO Photo)


On 12 June 1998 the North Atlantic Council, meeting at Defense Minister level, asked for an assessment of possible further measures that NATO might take with regard to the developing Kosovo Crisis. This led to consideration of a large number of possible military options.

On 13 October 1998, following a deterioration of the situation, the NATO Council authorized Activation Orders for air strikes. This move was designed to support diplomatic efforts to make the Milosevic regime withdraw forces from Kosovo, cooperate in bringing an end to the violence and facilitate the return of refugees to their homes. At the last moment, following further diplomatic initiatives including visits to Belgrade by NATO's Secretary General Solana, US Envoys Holbrooke and Hill, the Chairman of NATO's Military Committee, General Naumann, and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, General Clark, President Milosevic agreed to comply and the air strikes were called off.

UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1199, among other things, expressed deep concern about the excessive use of force by Serbian security forces and the Yugoslav army, and called for a cease-fire by both parties to the conflict. In the spirit of the UNSCR, limits were set on the number of Serbian forces in Kosovo, and on the scope of their operations, following a separate agreement with Generals Naumann and Clark.

It was agreed, in addition, that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would establish a Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) to observe compliance on the ground and that NATO would establish an aerial surveillance mission. The establishment of the two missions was endorsed by UN Security Council Resolution 1203. Several non-NATO nations that participate in Partnership for Peace (PfP) agreed to contribute to the surveillance mission organized by NATO.

In support of the OSCE, the Alliance established a special military task force to assist with the emergency evacuation of members of the KVM, if renewed conflict should put them at risk. This task force was deployed in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) under the overall direction of NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe.

Despite these steps, the situation in Kosovo flared up again at the beginning of 1999, following a number of acts of provocation on both sides and the use of excessive and disproportionate force by the Serbian Army and Special Police. Some of these incidents were defused through the mediation efforts of the OSCE verifiers but in mid-January, the situation deteriorated further after escalation of the Serbian offensive against Kosovar Albanians.

Renewed international efforts were made to give new political impetus to finding a peaceful solution to the conflict. The six-nation Contact Group (1) established by the 1992 London Conference on the Former Yugoslavia met on 29 January. It was agreed to convene urgent negotiations between the parties to the conflict, under international mediation.
 

OSCE vehicles pull out of Yugoslavia on 20 March 1999. (Belga Photo)

NATO supported and reinforced the Contact Group efforts by agreeing on 30 January to the use of air strikes if required, and by issuing a warning to both sides in the conflict. These concerted initiatives culminated in initial negotiations in Rambouillet near Paris, from 6 to 23 February, followed by a second round in Paris, from 15 to 18 March. At the end of the second round of talks, the Kosovar Albanian delegation signed the proposed peace agreement, but the talks broke up without a signature from the Serbian delegation.

Immediately afterwards, Serbian military and police forces stepped up the intensity of their operations against the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, moving extra troops and modern tanks into the region, in a clear breach of compliance with the October agreement. Tens of thousands of people began to flee their homes in the face of this systematic offensive.

On 20 March, the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission was withdrawn from the region, having faced obstruction from Serbian forces to the extent that they could no longer continue to fulfill their task. US Ambassador Holbrooke then flew to Belgrade, in a final attempt to persuade President Milosevic to stop attacks on the Kosovar Albanians or face imminent NATO air strikes.
 
  A US F-15E Strike Eagle takes off.

Milosevic refused to comply, and on 23 March the order was given to commence air strikes (Operation Allied Force).

On 10 June 1999, after an air campaign lasting seventy-seven days, NATO Secretary General Javier Solana announced that he had instructed General Wesley Clark, Supreme Allied Commander Europe, temporarily to suspend NATO's air operations against Yugoslavia. This decision was taken after consultations with the North Atlantic Council and confirmation from General Clark that the full withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo had begun.

The withdrawal was in accordance with a Military-Technical Agreement concluded between NATO and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on the evening of 9 June. The agreement was signed by Lt. General Sir Michael Jackson, on behalf of NATO, and by Colonel General Svetozar Marjanovic of the Yugoslav Army and Lieutenant General Obrad Stevanovic of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, on behalf of the Governments of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Republic of Serbia. The withdrawal was also consistent with the agreement between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the European Union and Russian special envoys, President Ahtisaari of Finland and Mr. Victor Chernomyrdin, former Prime Minister of Russia, reached on 3 June.

The NATO Secretary General announced that he had written to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Kofi Annan, and to the President of the United Nations Security Council, informing them of these developments. The Secretary General of NATO urged all parties to the conflict to seize the opportunity for peace and called on them to comply with their obligations under the agreements which had now been concluded and under all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Paying tribute to General Clark and to the forces which had contributed to Operation Allied Force, and to the cohesion and determination of all the Allies, the Secretary General stated that NATO was ready to undertake its new mission to bring the people back to their homes and to build a lasting and just peace in Kosovo.

On 10 June the UN Security Council passed a resolution (UNSCR 1244) welcoming the acceptance by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of the principles on a political solution to the Kosovo crisis, including an immediate end to violence and a rapid withdrawal of its military, police and paramilitary forces. The Resolution, adopted by a vote of 14 in favor and none against, with one abstention (China), announced the Security Council's decision to deploy international civil and security presences in Kosovo, under United Nations auspices.
 
Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin (right) and his EU counterpart, Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari (left) talk to the media at Belgrade airport on 2 June 1999, prior to talks with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.(Belga Photo)

Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council also decided that the political solution to the crisis would be based on the general principles adopted on 6 May by the Foreign Ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized countries and the Russian Federation - the Group of 8 - and the principles contained in the paper presented in Belgrade by the President of Finland and the Special Representative of the Russian Federation which was accepted by the Government of the Federal Republic on 3 June. Both documents were included as annexes to the Resolution.

The principles included, among others, an immediate and verifiable end to violence and repression in Kosovo; the withdrawal of the military, police and paramilitary forces of the Federal Republic; deployment of effective international and security presences, with substantial NATO participation in the security presence and unified command and control; establishment of an interim administration; the safe and free return of all refugees; a political process providing for substantial self-government, as well as the demilitarization of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA); and a comprehensive approach to the economic development of the crisis region.

The Security Council authorized Member States and relevant international organizations to establish the international security presence, and decided that its responsibilities would include deterring renewed hostilities, demilitarizing the KLA and establishing a secure environment for the return of refugees and in which the international civil presence could operate. The Security Council also authorized the UN Secretary-General to establish the international civil presence and requested him to appoint a Special Representative to control its implementation.

Following the adoption of UNSCR 1244, General Jackson, acting on the instructions of the North Atlantic Council, made immediate preparations for the rapid deployment of the security force (Operation Joint Guardian), mandated by the United Nations Security Council.

The first elements entered Kosovo on 12 June. As agreed in the Military Technical Agreement, the deployment of the security force - KFOR - was synchronized with the departure of Serb security forces from Kosovo. By 20 June, the Serb withdrawal was complete and KFOR was well established in Kosovo.

At its full strength KFOR will comprise some 50,000 personnel. It is a multinational force under unified command and control with substantial NATO participation. Agreement has been reached on the arrangements for participation by the Russian Federation. More than twelve other non-NATO nations have also indicated their intention to contribute to KFOR.

Also on 20 June, following confirmation by the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) that Serb security forces had vacated Kosovo, the Secretary General of NATO announced that, in accordance with the Military Technical Agreement, he had formally terminated the air campaign.
A British Lynx helicopter delivers aid on 5 April 1999 to the UNHCR refugee facility in Brazda, which was constructed with the assistance of NATO forces in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1). (Belga Photo)

NATO forces have been at the forefront of the humanitarian efforts to relieve the suffering of the many thousands of refugees forced to flee Kosovo by the Serbian ethnic cleansing campaign. In the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (1) NATO troops built refugee camps, refugee reception centers and emergency feeding stations, as well as moving many hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid to those in need. In Albania, NATO deployed substantial forces to provide similar forms of assistance. NATO has also assisted the UNHCR with co-ordination of humanitarian aid flights as well as supplementing these flights by using aircraft from member countries. The Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Center (EADRCC) established at NATO in May 1998 has also played an important role in the coordination of support to UNHCR relief operations.

Of particular concern to NATO countries and to the international community as a whole, from the outset of the crisis, has been the situation of the Kosovar Albanians remaining in Kosovo, whose plight has been described by refugees leaving the province. All indications pointed to organized persecution involving mass executions; exploitation as human shields; rape; mass expulsions; burning and looting of homes and villages; destruction of crops and livestock; suppression of identity, origins and property ownership by confiscation of documents; hunger, starvation and exhaustion; and many other abuses of human rights and international norms of civilized behavior.
 
1 Turkey recognises the republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name