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Kosovo and Serbia have been dragging their conflict since the nineties. Why are they fighting again now? | International

Several trucks blocking a road in Kosovo.
Several trucks blocking a road in Kosovo.ARMEND NIMANI (AFP)

Tension flares up again between Kosovo and Serbia. The two territories that until 2008 were part of the same country have a long history of disagreements. The decision of the Government of Pristina that all the inhabitants of the country – including Kosovars of Serbian origin – use the same license plates and identity documents is the latest reason for confrontation, which has led to traffic cuts, attacks on policemen and fear to an armed clash between two European countries. The meeting held this Thursday in Brussels between the Kosovar Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, and the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, ended without an agreement and with Vucic accusing Kurti of lying by insinuating, days ago, that Belgrade has plans to attack to your neighbor.

The break-up of the former Yugoslavia began in Kosovo in the early 1990s and ended in Kosovo, with its effective separation from Serbia in 2008. It was in what was then a Serbian province that the first armed clashes took place and it was there that they ended the wars that led to the emergence of the new independent states Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia. These were joined by Kosovo, a country that still today is not recognized by Spain or by half of the international community.

Like other conflicts in the Balkans, the Kosovar war had thousands of deaths and episodes of ethnic cleansing. The Kosovar Albanian majority’s desire for autonomy in what was then a Serbian province led to an attack by Serbian forces led by Slobodan Milosevic and ended with NATO bombing of Belgrade and other cities in Serbia and Montenegro in 1999. The war stopped. But the conflict has remained open all these years, punctuated by episodes of violence, such as the one in 2003.

Until 2008, Kosovo remained an autonomous region of Belgrade, but that year it unilaterally proclaimed its independence. This summer the tension rose again. As had already happened last September, the Serb community blocked several roads in northern Kosovo following the Pristina government’s decision to ban Serbian documents and number plates. To try to appease the situation, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, summoned Kurti and Vucic to Brussels on Thursday. No concrete results so far.

Why does the last shock arise? In June, Kosovo resumed the project to end in its territory the documents and license plates that Belgrade issues to drivers. The argument of the Government of Pristina is that Serbia does not recognize its own either. Kurti already tried it last September and also then the tension with the Kosovo Serb community, the majority in the north of the country, skyrocketed.

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How was the independence of Kosovo declared? In 2008, the Kosovar Parliament unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia. Countries like the United States, France or the United Kingdom quickly recognized the new European state. Others like Russia, a traditional ally of Serbia, China or Spain have not done so. The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, reiterated the Spanish position this Monday on his trip to Albania. Nor does Serbia accept it, which appealed the declaration of independence to the International Court in The Hague. The court’s decision, although not binding, was a blow to Belgrade’s aspirations over the former Yugoslav territory, since it concluded that the step taken by Pristina had been legal, given the exceptional nature of the post-war context and the claims of clean-up ethnic against the Serbs.

Why doesn’t Spain recognize it as an independent state? None of the Spanish governments, neither the PSOE nor the PP, have recognized the step that Pristina took unilaterally 14 years ago. Spain does not want to set a precedent that could be used in Catalonia or the Basque Country to try to take a similar step. The Kosovar argument to convince Spain to recognize its independence is based on the fact that the judgment of the International Court in The Hague establishes a very different case from the one that could be accepted by any Spanish territory, in a context of war and accusations of genocide.

10,000 dead in the war. The open clash between the Kosovo Liberation Army and Serbia took place between 1998 and 1999 and resulted in some 10,000 deaths, a million displaced people and multiple human rights violations. The war ended with NATO bombing in 1999 on Serbia and with resolution 1244 of the United Nations Security Council, which regulated the administrative regime of Kosovo after the war.

Are there talks between Serbia and Kosovo? The European Union has maintained an open forum with both parties since 2011 to seek a solution to the conflicts that are still open. If there is no solution, the entry of both into the EU seems impossible. “There have been difficult moments and times of crisis and sometimes it has seemed impossible to continue. However, in the end, both Kosovo and Serbia have shown a firm commitment, knowing that their path to the European Union passes through it”, explained a statement from Borrell, to the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Policy, after a meeting at three bands held a little over a year ago.

What is KFOR? After the war, NATO sent a military mission in June 1999 under a United Nations resolution. This military force is called KFOR (Kosovo Force, in English) and has the task of monitoring security in the area and maintaining what was agreed in the peace agreement.

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