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Kosovo (autonomous province of Kosovo and Metohija) is a region in the western Balkan Peninsula with a ethnic Albanian majority population (estimated at 82% prior to the international conflict of 1999, but now somewhat larger owing to the reduction of the Serb minority). Its international status is anomalous in that although it is formally a province of the Republic of Serbia under the sovereignty of Yugoslavia, actual administration is presently conducted by the United Nations with no involvement on the part of the Serbian or Yugoslav governments.

With an area of 10,887 sq. km. and a population of around 2.2 million on the eve of the 1999 crisis, Kosovo borders with Montenegro to the northwest, Serbia to the north and east, Macedonia to the south and Albania to the southwest. The largest cities are Prishtina, the capital, with 190,000 inhabitants, and Prizren in the southwest with 120,000: five other towns have populations in excess of 50,000.

Kosovo's anomalous status is the result of the Kosovo War of March-June 1999, in the course of which air strikes against Serbia and its armed forces by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization secured the withdrawal of Serbia's military and the province's occupation by a NATO-led international force (KFOR) including also Russian troops.

Entered by Serbs migrating from the north-east around the early 7th century AD, Kosovo was a centre of the medieval Serbian kingdom until its conquest by the Ottoman Turks in the late 14th century. The existing Albanian population was greatly added to by migrants from the west (modern Albania) during the centuries of Ottoman rule, when Islam also became the faith of most of the Albanian people.

Kosovo became a part of the revived kingdom of Serbia during the First Balkan War of 1912-1913, at which time Albanians numbered some 60-65% and Serbs 25-30% of the area's 400-500,000 inhabitants. Created an autonomous region of Serbia in 1946 and an autonomous province in 1963, Kosovo enjoyed almost complete self-government under predominantly Albanian local communist party leaders from 1974 until 1989, when its autonomy was revoked by a more nationalistic Serbian government following allegations of discrimination against the Serb minority.

Albanian opposition to Serbian sovereignty, which had surfaced in March 1981 rioting in the capital Prishtina, subsequently took the form of separatist agitation by opposition political groups and armed action from 1996 by the "Kosovo Liberation Army" (Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves, or UCK). Guerrilla attacks and Serbian military action reduced the province by 1998 to a state of internal war, occasioning western intervention amid allegations of Serbian reprisals against Albanian civilians.

Both NATO and the UN continue to recognise Kosovo as a part of Serbia, but with the departure since 1999 of much of the Serb population and the reluctance of local Albanians to see Serbian sovereignty restored in practice, it is difficult to imagine how the removal of de facto Serbian authority in the province can be reconciled with assurances of Serbia's continued territorial integrity given by the NATO powers and reaffirmed (June 1999) in UN Security Council resolution 1244.

At the same time, it is also difficult to see how Serbia would consent to recognizing Kosovar independence, and without Serbia's approval, recognition of Kosovar independence would be extremely problematic under international law as it would be a violation of the principles of territorial integrity and non-interference in internal affairs. The most likely outcome is the indefinite continuation of the current situation.


Kosovo maps from the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/kosovo.html.