Kosovo: What happened to peace?Emma Batha
Friday, 25 February, 2000
For three months last year, Nato carried out its largest ever combat operation with the aim of stopping Serb oppression of the majority ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo.
After a 78-day air offensive, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed on 10 June to withdraw 40,000 Yugoslav and Serb troops in the province, leaving the way clear for international peacekeepers to move in.
The long and difficult process of restoring peace to the troubled province has already achieved some successes but has also suffered many setbacks.
One of the first tasks for the Nato-led multinational peacekeeping force, K-For, was to oversee the return of Kosovo Albanian refugees.
During the crisis more than 800,000 people fled the province bringing with them accounts of massacres, atrocities and forced expulsions at the hands of Serb forces.
They were housed in makeshift camps in neighbouring republics, resources stretched to breaking point by the scale of the exodus.
Almost all the refugees who fled are now back home.
But as they began returning last summer, tens of thousands of Kosovo Serbs left the province fearing retaliatory attacks.
The few who remain are frequent targets of retribution and many require round-the-clock protection from K-For.
The main flashpoint has become the divided northern town of Mitrovica. Serbs dominate the northern half of town while south, across the River Ibar the population is now made up almost exclusively of ethnic Albanians.
Mitrovica is seen as the crucial test of whether international community can create the conditions for the two groups to live side by side.
Another priority in the first months after the Serb withdrawal was the disarming of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).
The KLA officially disbanded in September, transforming into a 3,000-strong civilian defence body called the Kosovo Protection Corps, or TMK to use its Albanian initials.
The UN insists the corps' duties are restricted to emergency and humanitarian work.
But former KLA members joke that TMK stands for Tomorrow's Masters of Kosovo and consider it the nucleus for a national army for an independent Kosovo. No Serbs have been recruited.
Other KLA figures have meanwhile been incorporated into a new political party and the KLA's former political leader Hashim Thaci has joined Kosovo's UN-led council.
Serb military operations and Nato bombing destroyed thousands of buildings.
The international community has pledged $2.1bn for reconstruction which is expected to begin in earnest in the spring.
Initially, emergency repairs aimed to restore basic communications and utilities and ensure each family had one habitable room before the onset of winter.
But the US says progress is being hampered because many governments which promised money have failed to cough up.
Kosovo was supposed to get around 5,000 international police to establish law and order.
But nearly nine months later there are still less than 2,000.
This means that K-For, which numbers around 40,000 troops, has had to assume a police role which was never intended.
There is confusion over everything from the legal code to property rights, there is no properly functioning judiciary and crime is rampant.
The overwhelming majority of criminal suspects are released after arrest and disappear.
Much of the crime is related to ethnic violence, but there are accusations of bias as police have appeared reluctant to arrest ethnic Albanians and judges will not put them behind bars.
International investigators have so far discovered the remains of 2,100 bodies in around 190 mass graves dating back to the months of conflict. The excavation of more than 300 further sites will resume in spring.
The evidence may be used to prosecute President Milosevic and others who have been indicted for war crimes in Kosovo.
The UN's top administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner has set up an interim administrative council with four UN and four local representatives, one of whom is supposed to be a Serb.
But the Serbs have boycotted the council and are refusing to take part in the ministries now being established.
A provisional date for local elections has been set for September, but preparations are months behind schedule.
There is still no electoral roll and many Kosovo Albanians have no proof of identity because the Serbs confiscated their papers.
Officials also want to persuade Kosovo Serbs who have fled the province to return and participate.
At the moment, the UN is envisaging municipal elections but this has angered Albanians who want parliamentary elections, which they see as a step towards eventual independence.
The war was fought with the aim of building a multi-ethnic Kosovo. But as the violence in Mitrovica shows, hatred between Serbs and Albanians can still flare up.
Hundreds of people have been killed across the province since June in shootings and bombings.
Regional expert Misha Glenny says he believes antipathy between the two sides runs deeper than between any other communities in the Balkans.
K-For's commander, General Klaus Reinhardt, says little can be done to stop ethnic violence in a land where weapons are plentiful and borders porous.
Some analysts fear that when Kosovo's Albanians realise the UN is not about to hand them independence on a plate, they will turn their firepower on the peacekeepers, perceiving them as the new occupiers.
This has already happened in Mitrovica where American troops were pelted with stones in a recent search for illegal weapons, and two French soldiers were injured in a two hour gun battle on 13 February. One Albanian sniper was killed when the French troops returned fire.
Nato may have won the war last June, but it has by no means won the peace.