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Kosovo War

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The Kosovo war was a war between Yugoslav military (with the government of Montenegro officially abstaining but many of Montenegrin recruits taking part) on one side and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the "Kosovo Liberation Army" (KLA) on the other. NATO bombed Serbia from March 24 to June 10 of 1999, and this is generally considered the timespan of the war, although civil war between KLA and Yugoslav security forces occurred both before and after this time.

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History behind the conflict

Kosovo was declared an autonomous region of Serbia by the Yugoslavian Communist constitution of 1945. Both Serbs and Albanians had long regarded Kosovo as their own historical space. For Serbs, it was the center of their culture [1] (http://www.kosovo.com) as well as the site of the Battle of Kosovo which marked their sacrifice for Christianity. In the 20th century the percentage of Serbs in the territory was around 50% before WWII and then it dropped to 15% by 1990. By the 1980s it was estimated that about 1.5 million of Kosovo's 1.9 million strong population were ethnically Albanian, with more than 200,000 being Serbs (see Kosovo population data-points). Other major minorities were Roma (Gypsies)- more than 70,000, Turks, and Goranis (Slavic Muslims who are close to the Orthodox Serbs).


Map of greater Albania claimed by Albanian nationalists

Tensions between the two communities had been simmering for decades, but were suppressed by Yugoslavia's Communist government which favoured the Albanian minority in Serbia and attempted to buy their support by creating the autonomous region of Kosovo whose borders were drawn so as to create an Albanian majority. After the death of Josip Broz Tito in 1980, Albanians in Serbia (Kosovo), Montenegro and Macedonia organized massive anti-Yugoslav demonstrations in 1981 which surpassed those of 1968. Unlike in 1968 the demands were for a 7th Republic in Yugoslavia which was to include parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia (Kosovo) (see map of Greater Albania below). According to the 1974 Communist Yugoslav Constitution, republics nominally had the right to self-determination. The Communist Yugoslav presidency responded by using riot police and proclaiming a state of emergency. Throughout most of the 1980's the Serbs and other non-Albanians minorities were subjected to ever-greater pressures and mistreatment [2] (http://emperors-clothes.com/articles/benworks/1980news) at the hands of the Albanians. As the local police and authorities were all Albanian-dominated, most opted to leave [3] (http://www.rastko.org.yu/kosovo/istorija/kosovo_migrations/index) thus rendering the plight of the remaining Serbs even worse.

Slobodan Milosevic rose to notoriety in 1987 on the issue of the Kosovo Serbs' plight by promising a group of gathered Serbs in Kosovo Polje that they shouldn't fear the (Albanian-dominated) police, promising them that no one had the right to beat them just because they had gathered to protest.

Milosevic moved to alter the highly-generous and decentralized 1974 Communist Constitution which was adopted by then-dictator Tito. Under such a statute, Serbia was the only Republic in Yugoslavia to have autonomous provinces (two of them).

Milosevic moved to alter the decentralized 1974 Communist Constitution which was adopted by Tito. Under such a statute, Serbia was the only Republic in Yugoslavia to have autonomous provinces (two of them). The Autonomous Provinces, unlike the Republics, had no constitutional right to self-determination and their territory was considered as being integral to that of the Republic (in this case Serbia). However, the Serbian Assembly was handicapped in that it could not approve any laws without the approval of its two provincial Assemblies. In Voivodina which was mostly Serb-populated, this did not present a problem, however, Kosovo's Albanian Communist leadership became increasingly aggressive (particularly after the 1981 demonstrations) in calling for independence. The Kosovo Communist leadership of Mahmut Bakalli (who later joined the Party of Hashim Thaci and the KLA) was judged too extremist and was replaced by that of Azem Vllasi who was judged as more moderate. However, most of Bakalli's key men were in Vllasi's administration and soon scandals broke out over funds. Kosovo was the least developed region of all of Yugoslavia and the rest of the country (the more advanced regions of Serbia particularly) had to implement separate taxes to contribute in the development of the backwater province. and was accused of blocking the Serbian Assembly. Namely, it was claimed that funds provided to the Kosovo Albanian-dominated Communist leadership were misplaced and used for building a huge football stadium in Pristina whereas parts of the town still had no running water or sewage.

Slobodan Milosevic moved to reduce the constitutional importance of the autonomous provinces in Serbia, they both reverted to the status they enjoyed in 1963. This meant the disbanding of many of Kosovo's constitutional powers which was seen as a blow to ethnic Albanians. Kosovo's assembly and government were formally disbanded in July 1990 after Serbia's new Constitution was approved by referendum (in all of the Republic of Serbia). The Albanian political establishment in Kosovo under the leadership of Ibrahim Rugova proceeded with the creation of a shadow Assembly and a phantom Republic of Kosovo. Rugova also 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. Since most of Kosovo's industry was state-owned, the amendment in the Serbian Constitution brought the wholesale change of corporate cadres. Albanians also claimed to have been fired en masse from state-owned companies however some Albanians remained employed in Serbian state companies all the way till the arrival of NATO troops in June 1999. Tensions between the two communities dramatically increased.

In 1991, the shadow Kosovo Assembly, organised a referendum on sovereignty which received overwhelming support of almost a million votes which almost unanimously chose Ibrahim Rugova[?] as shadow president and elected a 130-member shadow assembly. There have been reports of vote rigging by Rugova's LDK particularly due to the fact that both elections held by the OSCE (in 2000-01) had much lower participation (some 650,000 Albanian votes). Serbia regarded these elections as illegal and refused to recognise the results. Rugova seemingly led a peaceful movement of civil disobedience, refusing to cooperate with Serbian government on any level and claiming discrimination, although there have been unsuccessful attempts to gather a fighting force. Namely, Bujar Bukoshi, shadow Prime Minister in exile (in Zurich, Switzerland), created the AFRK, 'Armed Forces of the Republic of Kosova' which was reported to have been disbanded and absorbed by the KLA in 1998.

In the mid-1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was formed to fight for independence for Kosovo. Most Kosovan Albanians saw the KLA as legitimate "freedom fighters" whilst the Serbian government called them terrorists. Following massive attacks by the KLA in January of 1998 which led to numerous deaths, the Serbian police moved against February 28, 1998 began to wipe out so-called "terrorist gangs" in Kosovo. Some of the incidents, like the killing of 6 Serbian teenagers in Pec, Kosovo, and killings of Kosovo Albanians loyal to Serbia KLA has not admitted as their acts. In February, 1998, Special American Representative to Yugoslavia Robert Gelbard also called the KLA a terrorist organization.

NATO Involvement

In the late 90s, the KLA began its armed uprising in Kosovo. In summer 1998, the violence had escalated to full civil war in Kosovo, with hundreds dead and possibly as many as 300,000 internal refugees. Kosovo came to the attention of the Western media, and the United States, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), decided that something had to be done. A NATO-brokered cease-fire of October 25, 1998 saw a large contingent of OSCE peace monitors move into Kosovo.

In December 1998, the cease-fire between the KLA and Yugoslavia broke down. The following months were marked by military and civilian killings by both sides. On January 15 the Yugoslav military and Serbian police forces took part in an anti-KLA operation in the village of Racak. Later they were accused of killing 45 Albanians in Racak. The so-called "Racak Massacre" was one of the primary justifications for the Kosovo War and an indictment in the war crimes trial of Milosevic, although some believe existing evidence suggests that the Albanians were killed in battle. [4] (http://www.srpska-mreza.com/ddj/Racak/Tiker/RacakFile)


Residential areas and Serbian television were bombed
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Peace talks between Yugoslavia and Albanians in Chateau Rambouillet outside Paris broke down on March 19. The proposed Rambouillet Agreement called for NATO administration of Kosovo as an autonomous province within Yugoslavia; unrestricted access by NATO troops to Yugoslavia (Kosovo and all other parts); and immunity for NATO and its agents to Yugoslav law. The Albanian delegation signed the treaty. 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. Albanians refused to sign agreement in February, and did so after a two week break and a heavy pressure from United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The international monitors from 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 Kosovar Albanians [5] (http://www.serbia-info.com/news/1999-03/24/10030), but rejected the military part of the Rambouillet agreement, appendix B in particular [6] (http://www.state.gov/www/regions/eur/ksvo_rambouillet_text), which it characterized as "NATO occupation". NATO started its bombing campaign on March 24, 1999

The legitimacy of NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo has been the subject of debate. It is believed by many that NATO did not have the backing of the United Nations to use force in Yugoslavia. Others argued that atrocities committed by the Serbian leadership were reason enough to intervene. NATO's officials sought to portray the bombing campaign to the Western public as a "clean war". Newer technologies like depleted uranium ammunition were used as well. The bombing was however responsible for the deaths of civilians. Serbian TV was deliberately bombed, some believe that this was due to it broadcasting pictures of damage caused by the NATO bombing. Many Serbians and international associations argued that several war crimes were committed by the NATO during the campaign, and also point out that these alleged crimes were never investigated.

Kosovars fled inter-ethnic conflict, but also the bombing and infrastructure destruction, in the hundreds of thousands into neighboring Albania and Macedonia (which quickly closed its borders). But before those nations closed their borders Serbian forces on April 7, 1999 closed border crossings out of Kosovo to prevent ethnic Albanians from leaving. Refugees were redirected back to homes, to Montenegro and Southern Serbia. The West protested this decision, and the borders were reopened after few days. At least eight hundred thousand Kosovars fled the province, including 100,000 who left before the war began. Most of these were ethnic Albanians who fled into Albania.


Kosovo Albanian refugees were hit by NATO
NATO portrayed the bombings as a way for the Albanian refugees to be eventually returned home. Tony Blair spoke of 500,000 killed Albanians, genocide perpetrated by the Serbs and necessity of "humanitarian bombardment". These claims proved to be vastly exaggerated as the actual number of Albanian casualties, military and civilian, were put by Western estimates to be from 5,000 to 10,000 at most in all accounts made after the war, and the genocide charge was never made after the war. Pictures of refugees were used extensively in some Western media, and concern was raised over U.S. Army psychological operations staff who interned at CNN at the end of the war [7] (http://www.fair.org/activism/cnn-psyops). The Serbian side responded by showing what were alleged to be breaches of Geneva Protocols committed by NATO. In the beginning of April Rade Markovic[?], chief of Serbian state security, ordered closure of the borders and refugees were sent back to homes, or to Montenegro and Southern Serbia. The West had protested this decision and asked for borders to be reopened, which happened after a few days and the flood of refugees continued. Panic was widespread in Albanian population, and mass exodus was generated by fear of Serbian militia, conflict, bombs. The Serbs alleged that this was also encouraged by the KLA, and that in some cases the KLA issued direct orders to Albanians to flee.


Passenger bus hit and destroyed
alternate images
The bombings themselves also exacted a humanitarian toll: bridges were bombed during rush hour, cities known for their opposition to Milosevic were not spared. Many experts on international law criticised the bombings. They pointed out that international conventions agreed to by NATO countries among others prohibit destroying structures vitally important for human survival, prohibit destroying media organizations, TV and radio towers, journalist studios among other structures. The bombings however may have violated these agreements by targeting many of these structures including water treatment plants, TV stations and other vitally important sites. The use of depleted uranium and widespread pollution from bombing of oil refineries and chemical factories were also criticised. Many deformed babies were allegedly born after the war, and BBC has estimated that around 100,000 cancer deaths will result from this pollution. Criticism was also drawn by the fact that NATO charter specifies that NATO is an organization created for defence of its members, but in this case it was used to attack a country without any visible threat to any NATO members. Although NATO countered this argument by claiming that instability in the Balkans was a direct threat to stability across Europe and to NATO members, and was therefore justified by the NATO charter.

On May 7, NATO bombs dropped on the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. The United States and NATO later apologized for the bombing, saying that it occurred because of an outdated map provided by the CIA. However reports from the Observer (UK) and Politiken (Netherlands) newspapers (among others) have disputed that assertion, and reported that NATO intentionally bombed the Embassy because it was being used as a relay station for Yugoslav army radio signals. [8] (http://www.guardian.co.uk/Kosovo/Story/0,2763,203214,00) The bombing strained relations between China and NATO countries.


Electricity and water supplies were bombed
During the early phase of the war, NATO air power had difficulty attacking Serbian ground forces which were well hidden and dug in. Not desiring to introduce their own ground forces, NATO bombed Serbian factories and infrastructure, destroying Danube bridges, disrupting power supplies, water treatment plants, and other vital civilian installations in May. 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, NATO also maintained that it tried very hard to avoid civilian casualties during its bombing campaign. Faced with little alternative, Slobodan Milosevic accepted the conditions offered by a Finnish-Russian mediation team.

The final proposal that ended the bombing rejected the heavy NATO presence throughout Yugoslavia, but Serbia agreed to have a military presence within Kosovo headed by the UN. In practice NATO had more troops on the ground in its KFOR[?] force than the UN did in its UNMIK force.

The Kosovo War was significant from a military standpoint in that it marked the first effective use of low technology local ground forces in combination with high technology air power provided by the United States. This combination would prove effective in the United States campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001.

NATO flew 38,000 combat missions over Kosovo. Yugoslavia claimed these 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. NATO reported the loss of three helicopters, 32 UAVs and five airplanes, all American including the first stealth plane (a F-117 Fighter Bomber) shot down by enemy fire, and suffered no combat casualties. Several of these were lost in accidents and not by enemy action. Yugoslav army officialy claims it shot down seven helicopters, 30 UAVs, 61 planes and 238 cruise missiles; however, its claims are not verified. The Yugoslav army was largely intact in Kosovo despite the heavy bombing, and it was a surprise for NATO when they saw the scale of the retreating forces. Around 50 Yugoslavian aircraft were lost but only 13 tanks and armored vehicles — most of the targets hit in Kosovo were decoys, and the anti-aircraft defence was preserved during the conflict (radars were mostly turned off) so NATO missions were flown on 5 km altitude. There were up to 5000 military casualties according to NATO estimates, while the official Serbian figure is around 1000. At least 3000 bodies were dug up from mass graves and the International Red Cross compiled a list of over 3000 missing. Because many of the exhumed bodies could not be identified there is probably a great overlap in the Red Cross list and the number of exhumed.

The aftermath of the Kosovo War has seen a reduction of Kosovo's Serbian population by nearly 75%. This was caused largely by the Serbian fear of revenge attacks by returning Albanians. The Serbs also alleged that KFOR force showed little will to help the Serbs. NATO, who advertised the war as a struggle to help return refugees, 90% of whom had left their homes after the beginning of the bombing, now let Serbs and other non-Albanians, including Gypsies, Gorans, and Turks, who totalled 400,000, to leave Kosovo with little opposition to the KLA and extreme Albanian nationalists. KFOR has opposed any return of Serbian refugees to Kosovo, claiming it can not grant them security.

War Crimes Trials Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic along with Milan Milutinovic[?], Nikola Sainovic[?], Dragoljub Ojdanic[?] and Vlajko Stojiljkovic[?] was charged by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTFY) with crimes against humanity including murder, forcible transfer, deportation and "persecution on political, racial or religious grounds". This charge was made in May 1999, during the bombing. Yugoslav military and police forces are linked in the indictment to 12 instances causing the deaths of over 600 civilians.

Fatmir Limaj, Haradin Bala, Isak Musliu and Agim Murtezi of the KLA were indicted by ICTFY for crimes against humanity, including murder, torture and imprisonment, and five counts of violations of the laws or customs of war, including murder and cruel treatment. They were arrested Feb. 17-18, 2003. Charges were soon dropped against Agim Murtezi as a case of mistaken identity. The charges were in relation to Lapusnik prison camp run by the defendants between May and July 1998.

War crimes prosecutions have also been carried out in Yugoslavia. Yugoslav soldier Ivan Nikolic was found guilty in 2002 of war crimes in the deaths of two civilians in Kosovo.

In the case of NATO, the Tribunal claims it has no jurisdiction to prosecute for possible war crimes committed against Serbian civilians.

Yugoslav tactics that worked against NATO

The tactics used by the Yugoslav army to avoid damage to its military at Kosovo were quite efficient, according to Wesley Clark and other NATO generals who analyzed these tactics a few years after the conflict [9] (http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/front/RTGAM/20021120/wless1120/Front/homeBN/breakingnews)

The Yugoslav army, with its military doctrine developed during the Cold War with the main purpose to resist much stronger enemy (Russian or American invasion) has put many of these tactics to work. While it may be argued that these effects were not enough to block a technological highly advanced army from causing serious damage to civilian infrastructure, some of these techniques were provably effective, especially in preserving army inside Kosovo virtually intact:

  • U.S. stealth aircraft were tracked by using radars operating on long wavelengths. Also, if stealth jets got wet or started to drop bombs they would become visible on the radar screens. An F-117 stealth bomber was downed in this way.
  • The precision-guided missiles were often confused and unable to pinpoint radars, because radar beams were reflected off heavy farm machinery like old tractors and plows.
  • Many low tech approaches were used to confuse heat-seeking missiles and infrared sensors. Decoys such as small gas furnaces were used to simulate nonexisting positions on Kosovo mountainsides. Scout helicopters would land on flatbed trucks and rev their engines before being towed to camouflaged sites several hundred metres away. Heat-seeking missiles from NATO jets would then locate and go after the residual heat on the trucks. Similar tactics were planned in the case of the ground invasion - covert placement of heat emmiters on territory that NATO troops were to enter, tricking B-52s into carpet-bombing their own positions and causing friendly-fire incidents.
  • Dummy targets were used very extensively. Fake bridges, airfields and decoy planes and tanks were used. Tanks were made using old tires, plastic sheeting and logs, and sand cans and fuel set alight to mimic heat emissions. They fooled NATO pilots into bombing hundreds of such decoys. NATO claimed that Yugoslav air force had been decimated. In reality, as it turned out after the war, most of Yugoslav planes and armored vehicles survived unscathed.
  • Bridges and other strategic targets were defended from missiles with laser-guidance systems by bonfires made of old tires and wet hay, which emit dense smoke filled with laser-reflecting particles.
  • Old electronic jammers were used to block U.S. bombs equipped with GPS guidance.
  • Yugoslav jets flew combat missions over Kosovo at extremely low altitudes, taking advantage of mountainous terrain to remain undetected by AWACS flying radars.
  • Predator drones, Apache attack choppers and C-130 Hercules gunships were ineffective in Kosovo. Apaches and C-130 were considered too vulnerable to be deployed at all, after two Apache choppers suffered accidents during training in Albanian mountains. Hispano-Suisa anti-aircraft cannons from the WWII era were used efficiently against drones.

See also: Slobodan Milosevic, NATO, Strategic bombing, Gen. Wesley Clark, Jamie Shea

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