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Kosovo Independence, NATO and Nation Building

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Three boys and a KFOR peacekeeper in Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo.

Three boys and a KFOR peacekeeper in Mitrovica, Northern Kosovo.

In 1999, Kosovo was in the news, much like present day Syria. This small landlocked Balkan territory was engulfed in a bloody, ethnic war. Today, it is not uncommon to see cemeteries where entire family units were eliminated. Even four-month old babies and 92 year-old grandmothers were not spared.

NATO (The North Atlantic Treaty Organization) intervened, first with air strikes, followed by boots on the ground in June 1999.

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. Since then, the Republic of Kosovo has received nearly 100 diplomatic recognitions – including Canada, the U.S. and 22 out of the 27 present EU countries – as an independent state.

Unlike the United Nation’s newest country, South Sudan – which became the UN’s 193rd member on July 14, 2011 – Kosovo is not part of the UN club. Its athletes could not participate in the London 2012 summer Olympics under the Kosovo flag. Countries like Serbia, Russia, China, and India have not recognized Kosovo’s independence. (Serbia claims the territory as its own.) Talks moderated by the European Union are taking place between the two former foes.

The NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) continues to hold the fragile peace together with some 6,000 international peacekeeping troops. The European Union operates a security and policing operation known as Eulex.

Nation-building is a huge challenge for Kosovo. The northern Kosovo town of Mitrovica continues to be a flashpoint. Civilians from both sides continue to be killed or injured by bomb or grenade attacks. NATO peacekeepers have also been targeted in Northern Kosovo as well.

Nation-building “pains” and the tense situation in Northern Kosovo has required NATO to keep its force around the 6,000 troop level. Tensions can still quickly boil over, including inter-ethnic violence. Another threat to Kosovo stability is organized crime, corruption and high unemployment. The unemployment rate for all of Kosovo is officially around 45 per cent, although in reality many political analysts say it’s a lot higher. De-mining clearance is still underway, especially near the border with Albania.

According to a report funded by the European Union and the Council of Europe, Project against Economic Crime in Kosovo: “Economic crime – including corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing, trafficking in human beings, cybercrime and other forms of financial and organized crime – are of important concerns in Kosovo.”

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