BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) – An international prosecutor has charged the President of Kosovo and nine other former rebel fighters with war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after an armed conflict of 1998-1999 between the ethnic Albanian separatists and Serbia.
The charges were made public on Wednesday as efforts by both the European Union and the United States to facilitate a sustainable settlement to normalize relations between Serbia and Kosovo after decades of tensions and thousands of lives lost.
While Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Serbia has refused to formally abandon its former province. This issue remains the last source of instability due to the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
Here’s a look at Kosovo and the history of the conflict:
WHERE IS KOSOVO?
Kosovo is a small landlocked country in the Western Balkans, surrounded by Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. The 1.8 million country is predominantly ethnic Albanian and includes ethnic Serbs, Roma and smaller minority groups.
Kosovo was an autonomous province in Serbia and as such part of the former communist-led Yugoslavia. The ethnic tensions that later caused the bloody break-up of the multi-ethnic Yugoslav federation started in Kosovo in the late 1980s, but only ignited there in 1998 in open conflict.
WHEN DID IT ALL BEGIN?
Disputes over the right to claim the 10,887 square kilometers that make up Kosovo go back decades, if not centuries.
Serbs see Kosovo as their national heart and trace their presence to hundreds of medieval Serbian Orthodox church monasteries scattered across the province. A 1389 battle that the Serbs lost against the Ottoman Turks is an important moment in the nation’s collective history.
Most Albanian Kosovars insist that they are the oldest inhabitants of Kosovo. First granted and then stripped of self-government within Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, ethnic Albanians claimed to be repressed by the Serbian state before their fighters started a rebellion in 1998.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE WAR?
After years of peaceful resistance, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo rebels formed Kosovo Liberation Army units and launched sporadic attacks on Serbian police and army units in 1998. Serbia, led by the nationalist strongman Slobodan Milosevic at the time, responded with a brutal crackdown that led to NATO intervention in 1999.
More than 10,000 people, mostly ethnic Albanians, died during the war in Kosovo and a million were driven from their homes before the NATO bombing forced Serbia to withdraw its troops from Kosovo and surrender control to the United Nations and NATO. Thousands of Serbian civilians also fled with the Serbian army and the police. Those left behind later faced revenge attacks.
ARE THERE WAR CRIMES TRIALS BEFORE?
A UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has tried a number of top Serb officials and army and police commanders for war crimes committed against ethnic Albanian civilians during the Kosovo conflict. Milosevic was also charged with atrocities in Kosovo by the court in The Hague, Netherlands, but died in 2006 while still on trial.
While most atrocities in Kosovo have been attributed to Serbs, the top rebels of the Kosovo Liberation Army rebels, including President Thaci, have been charged with responsibility for kidnapping, torture, wrongful imprisonment, and others. crimes against Serb civilians and pro-Serb Albanians.
The Kosovo prosecution charged by Thaci and others is part of a separate court in The Hague set up in 2015 to investigate alleged KLA crimes. The judges have yet to confirm the charges, which have long been expected.
WILL IT COMPACT STANDARDIZATION PRACTICES?
It is difficult to estimate.
Thaci canceled a trip to Washington to attend a White House meeting on Saturday to bring Pristina and Belgrade closer together, but the prime minister will still go. The meeting was convened by Richard Grenell, US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Kosovo, who has historically brokered agreements to restore air and rail connections between the two countries.
EU-mediated negotiations, which in the past have resulted in several agreements facilitating the day-to-day problems between the two sides, will also be resumed. Negotiations stalled at the end of 2018, but an EU envoy has said that a new round may take place next month.
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