Since February 1998 the Yugoslav army and Serbian police have fought against the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army, but their scorched-earth tactics have been concentrated on ethnic Albanian civilians — Muslims who make up 90% of Kosovo's population. More than 900 Kosovars have been killed in the fighting this year, and the hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes are without adequate food and shelter. Although Serbs make up only 10% of Kosovo's population, the region figures strongly in Serbian nationalist mythology.
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. In an October 12 truce brokered by American diplomat Richard Holbrooke, and under the threat of a military air strike —for which there was little enthusiasm among several NATO countries— President Slobodan Milosevic agreed to the withdrawal of military forces. Fighting continued, however, and neither side accepted Washington's proposal for the province — Kosovars demand full independence, while Serb leaders will agree only to limited autonomy.
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