Kosovo is now a country! Read all about the Republic of Kosovo.
This article was posted on June 16, 1999.
Where is Kosovo?
The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo share the ethnic background of the people of neighboring Albania and speak the Albanian language. They are largely Muslim, while the Serbians are generally Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The Serbs are struggling to maintain control over Kosovo for cultural reasons as well. The territory has a significant role in Serbian history, as the site of the Serbs' defeat by the Ottoman Turks in 1389. The battle at Kosovo Field figures prominently in Serbian poetry and has great national significance as the cradle of Serbian civilization.
Setting the Stage
In February 1998, President Milosevic sent Serbian troops to take back KLA-controlled areas. Eighty people were killed in the ensuing battle, including many women and children. The government-sponsored violence against Albanian civilians sparked rioting by outraged Kosovars and marked an escalation of the conflict.
It also gave cause for intervention by NATO, which, until that point, had never stepped into the middle of a conflict between a sovereign nation and its own citizens. In justifying its involvement, NATO cited the responsibility of protecting fellow human beings from crimes against humanity.
After months of unsuccessful attempts at restoring peace to Kosovo, NATO resorted to military action in the spring of 1999. On March 24 it launched an air campaign that would last for 78 days.
As bombs fell on Serbian soil, Western officials debated the likelihood of defeating the Serbs without the deployment of ground troops. NATO's hesitation in committing to a land battle —and therefore putting its troops at greater risk of danger— ultimately paid off. Serbia finally agreed to sign a UN-approved peace agreement with NATO on June 9.1. The United States does not recognize the new government as the successor state of the former Yugoslavia, and refers to it as "Serbia and Montenegro."