Kosovo: the vital questions

Who lives there now, and what was the war about? Peter Beaumont explains

Who lives there now?

The population of just under two million is split between an Albanian majority who call the country Kosova and a Serb minority who regard is as part of Serbia and call it Kosovo. Before the war of 1998-1999 it was Serbia's southern province, and remains culturally important for Serbs. Some 120,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo, many next to the border with Serbia. Half of that number live under Nato protection in scattered enclaves south of the Ibar river.

What was the war about?

A rising Albanian independence movement collided with strong Serbian nationalistic sentiment over Kosovo. When a peaceful Albanian independence movement got nowhere, the Kosovo Liberation Army emerged. Attacks and Serb police reprisals followed, until the international community became involved. A 78-day bombing campaign by Nato led to an escalation of Serb-on-Albanian violence, but attacks on Belgrade forced it to back down.

And then?

Put under UN administration, independent elected institutions emerged in 2001. However, attempts in 2006 to get both sides together ran into the old problems of Serb insistence on it remaining part of Serbia and Albanian insistence on independence. With the more independence-minded PDK in power in Kosovo, and with discreet encouragement from the US, Kosovo Albanians said they would declare independence unilaterally.

Will there be violence?

The big question. Lethal riots in 2004 reminded the world just how tense Kosovo is. But Serbia seems unlikely to intervene directly, and the Serbian population outside of Mitrovica is very isolated. While there seems no obvious incentive, it always remains a possibility.

How will the world react?

Serbia said a declaration would be 'a flagrant and unilateral act of secession of a part of the territory of the Republic of Serbia and... therefore null and void'. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said it 'would be immoral and illegal'. Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro are also likely to reject it. The US and most EU countries will recognise Kosovo. Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Greece are against it.


Peter Beaumont

The GuardianTramp

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