Serb Attack on Civilians Becomes Human Rights Calamity
In Feb. 1998, the Yugoslav army and Serbian police began fighting
against the Kosovo Liberation Army, but their scorched-earth tactics were
concentrated on ethnic Albanian civilians. More than 900 Kosovars were
killed in the fighting, and the hundreds of thousands forced to flee their
homes were without adequate food and shelter.
NATO was reluctant to intervene because Kosovo—unlike Bosnia in
1992—was legally a province of Yugoslavia. The proof of civilian
massacres finally gave NATO the impetus to intervene for the first time
ever in the dealings of a sovereign nation with its own people. NATO's
reason for involvement in Kosovo changed from avoiding a wider Balkan war
to preventing a human rights catastrophy. On March 24, 1999, NATO began
launching air strikes. Weeks of daily bombings destroyed significant
Serbian military targets, yet Serb president Milosevic showed no
signs of relenting. In fact, Serbian militia stepped up civilian massacres
and deportations in Kosovo, and by the end of the conflict, the UN high
commissioner for refugees estimated that at least 850,000 people had fled
Kosovo. Serbia finally agreed to sign the UN-approved peace agreement with
NATO on June 3, ending the 11-week war. NATO peacekeeping forces were
deployed to Kosovo, and the UN assumed administration of the province.
On March 17, 2004, Mitrovica, a city in northern Kosovo, experienced
the worst ethnic violence in the region since the 1999 war. At least 19
people were killed, another 500 were injured, and about 4,000 Serbs lost
their homes. NATO sent in an extra 1,000 troops to restore order.