Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008, capping a bitter struggle that lasted almost a decade.
Kosovo, a region in the Balkans, had historically been a part of Serbian territory. Today, however, it is populated largely by ethnic Albanians.
For most of the 20th century, Kosovo was part of Yugoslavia, a federation of six Balkan republics. After World War II, Kosovo was given special autonomous status within Serbia, the biggest and most populous republic.
Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians wanted independence, but Serbian leaders insisted that Kosovo remain part of the country.
The situation precipitated in the 1980s. In 1989, Serbia’s new President, Slobodan Milosevic adopted an uncompromising stance. He stripped Kosovo’s autonomy, suppressed Albanian language and shut down Albanian institutions. Kosovars responded with non-violent protests.
Yugoslavia fell apart after a bloody civil war in the early 1990s. Several new countries were formed afterwards. Among them The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, formed by Serbia and Montenegro.
Faced with the repressive Milosevic regime, the Kosovar Albanians took up arms. The Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA was formed in 1996 and began guerilla activity against Serb rule.
Belgrade’s response was harsh. During the crackdown, thousands of Kosovar Albanian were killed, tortured, and raped. Many fled to neighboring Macedonia and Albania.
The international community demanded that Milosevic stop the crackdown, fearing more brutal ethnic cleansing. Attempts were made to hammer out a peace agreement in early 1999, but to no avail.
NATO decided to intervene. On March 24, 1999, the alliance began air strikes intended to cripple Yugoslavia’s military capability. Yugoslavia, including its capital Belgrade, was bombed for 77 straight days. During the air war, Milosevic’s forces ramped up the ethnic cleansing.
On June 10, 1999 Milosevic capitulated. Yugoslavia withdrew its troops and allowed NATO’s peacekeepers. Administration was left up to the UN. The war left tens of thousands dead.
The situation remained unstable and the population divided. Kosovar Albanians sought independence, while Kosovar Serbs either fled or bolstered ties with Serbia proper.
On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence. The United States and many European countries recognized its independence. Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory.