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En librairie

Transformation de conflit, de Karine Gatelier, Claske Dijkema et Herrick Mouafo

Aux Éditions Charles Léopold Mayer (ECLM)


Brussels, novembre 2007

Character and goals: Kosovo Verification Mission

Background to the Kosovo Verification Mission.

Mots clefs : Kosovo

The unarmed “Kosovo Verification Mission” under the umbrella of OSCE

After almost nine years of non-violent resistance (1) against direct Serbian rule in Kosovo, a province that was inhabited by almost 90 % ethnic Albanians (2), radical Albanian groups voted for armed struggle and founded the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) (3). The massive repression that followed on the part of the Serbian/Yugoslav police and military forces, especially in 1998, turned most parts of Kosovo into a war area, with hundreds of thousands of people becoming temporarily displaced (4). Under the threat of NATO intervention in Kosovo in the autumn of 1998 (the activation order had even been given already) (5), the Yugoslav government under Milosevic agreed (6) at the last minute to the deployment of an unarmed “Kosovo Verification Mission” under the umbrella of OSCE (7). In contrast to an armed mission, an OSCE mission was acceptable to both sides, although the Kosovo-Albanians would have preferred an armed NATO peacekeeping force.

The OSCE started to deploy about 2000 unarmed monitors in November 1998, but not having the personnel (or equipment) ready, the Mission never reached the agreed number before it was withdrawn on March 20, 1999. The KVM replaced the “Kosovo Diplomatic Observation Mission-KDOM” that preceded it, and whose personnel was integrated into the KVM.

The security of the OSCE verifiers – the term “verifier » instead of “monitor » was used to express their active role – was to be guaranteed by the Yugoslav/Serbian police. But a “NATO Extraction Force” was deployed to Macedonia to stand ready in case OSCE personnel were taken hostage (a scenario looming large in the imagination of the Europeans after the hostage-taking that occurred in Bosnia in 1995) or were otherwise endangered. NATO also took charge of monitoring all movements in the air.

The mandate of the KVM included:

  • Establishment of a permanent presence throughout Kosovo;

  • Monitoring of the cease-fire (UN resolution 1199) as agreed between OSCE and FRY on 16.10.1998;

  • Maintaining close liaison with the parties and other organisations in Kosovo;

  • Supervising later elections in Kosovo;

  • Reporting and making recommendations to the OSCE Permanent Council and to the United Nations.

They were also charged with accompanying Serbian police forces if they requested it; supporting UNHCR, ICRC and other international organisations in the return of displaced persons and delivering of humanitarian aid; monitoring the support given to the humanitarian organisations by the Yugoslav authorities; and supporting the implementation of an agreement on the self-administration of Kosovo as soon as that agreement was made.

The Mission headquarters was established in the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina. In addition, five regional centres were opened, plus field offices and co-ordination centres in smaller towns and communities. Teams of verifiers were to operate from the field offices. An OSCE training centre was also opened to prepare the verifiers for their tasks.

From the beginning (8) the Mission was faced with many problems, although for the first two months violence decreased as the Serbian forces returned to their barracks. But by the end of December fighting had already resumed, mainly at first from the side of the Kosovo Liberation Army which had filtered back into the areas abandoned by the Yugoslav forces. The OSCE mission held out until March although their work became more and more difficult, until it was withdrawn a few days before the NATO bombing started. It is difficult to assess the degree of risk for the verifiers. Most who are critical of the NATO military intervention maintain that the withdrawal was not really necessary, and the number of incidents involving KVM personnel was rather small compared to the total number of encounters experienced daily by the personnel (9). The fact that the withdrawal was not impeded in any way, as OSCE and NATO feared it might, could be seen as an indicator that the Mission might still have had a chance.

Many questions have been asked about the role of NATO and specifically of the United States.

It can be proven by KVM reports that the UCK, not the Serb side, was to blame for the breaking of the cease-fire in December and January 1998/99. However, a rather dubious incident, the so-called “Racak massacre”, (10) was used by the USA and other NATO leaders (Germany and Britain distinguished themselves here in particular) to build up a case for military intervention. That intervention (11) – a bombing campaign of Yugoslav forces in Kosovo, and infrastructure in Serbia and Montenegro – eventually took place from March to June 1999, after a new round of negotiations in Rambouillet (France) had failed. The war was not sanctioned by the Security Council of the United Nations but was a unilateral decision of the NATO-allied states (12). The war ended when Yugoslavia capitulated in June 1999, and a transitional international rule (now based on UN Security Council resolutions) was established in Kosovo, with NATO taking care of peacekeeping, and the United Nations, OSCE and European Union sharing a multitude of civilian tasks.


  • (1) : See Clark 2000.

  • (2) : This is an approximate number since all the censuses were boycotted over the last ten years. After the NATO war, most Serbs and many members of other ethnic minorities have left Kosovo.

  • (3) : In contrast to the description of the other civilian missions, I have referenced this part very carefully instead of only naming the main sources at the beginning. This is due to the fact that the events that lead up eventually to the NATO war against Yugoslavia in March 1999 are discussed in a highly controversial manner. There are many statements by politicians and NATO leaders that can be proven to not correspond to the field reports of the observer missions on the ground. One of the main sources quoted here is Heinz Loquai; a high-ranking retired military of the German army who served with OSCE in Kosovo and whose critical report led to his dismissal soon after his book was published.

  • (4) : At that stage of the war, there were no indicators that the Yugoslav government aimed at ethnic cleansing in Kosovo as had the Bosnian Serbs in large parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. See Schweitzer 1999 c, Loquai 2000:26 pp.

  • (5) : Loquai 2000:31 pp. Durward (2000:31) says: “In Ambassador Holbrooke’s words, it was the credible threat of imminent NATO air strikes that induced Milosevic to comply.” Also after the signing of the agreement, the NATO activation order remained standing and it was quite clear for all actors on the ground that to resume fighting would lead to NATO intervention. See Schweitzer 1999 c.

  • (6) : “Agreement on the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission”, October 16, 1998, between Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the OSCE.

  • (7) : The OSCE had become marginalised at the beginning of the wars in former Yugoslavia, when first the EU and then the UN assumed the role of the main international players. By 1992, the OSCE had only established an observer mission in Macedonia and a long-term mission in Yugoslavia. However, due to the OSCE banning Yugoslavia, that mission had to be withdrawn as early as the end of July 1993. After the Dayton agreement, the OSCE has been trusted with the organisation of elections in Bosnia, the protection of human rights, and trust-building measures in the political-military sphere. (Giersch 1998, OSCE-Handbooks).

  • (8) : Communication was difficult with Yugoslav authorities, as well as with the Albanian leadership. There were internal co-ordination problems and limited freedom of movement by the Serbian authorities.

  • (9) : Loquai 2000:64 says that only 0,5 % of all activities were impeded, and that this means that there was no sign of a planned policy by the FRY government to prevent OSCE from carrying out its work. This view has been questioned by some verifiers with whom I personally have had the chance to speak. These people explained that a larger number of incidents never made it into official reports.

  • (10) : William Walker, the leader of the OSCE mission, arrived at the scene in Racak accompanied by 30 journalists (Loquai 2000:46), immediately spoke of a massacre committed by Serbian forces to which the 45 dead they found fell victim. But, the final report of the Finnish commission charged to examine the bodies was hushed up. (See Scheffran 1999:62 p, Loquai 2000:45 pp.) According to the reports of independent journalists (among them a team of the German Westdeutscher Rundfunk) the victims probably were killed in the course of an attack on the village, and then collected and brought to the point where they were found. That would mean that the accusation of a planned massacre or execution was not only premature, but became a conscious lie because Racak still figures high in the legitimisation of the NATO attack.

  • (11) : There is also the suspicion that the OSCE mission was used to prepare the military intervention by planting observers spying for NATO in it. Unfortunately, this allegation is hard to prove because OSCE monitors only confirm it off record, and officially both NATO and OSCE of course deny it. As argument in favour of this misuse of the mission, often the fact is quoted that the USA established Ambassador William Walker as head of the mission against the wishes of the Europeans. Ambassador Walker is a US diplomat with a record for doubtful activities in Latin America at the beginning of the 1980s. He served as Ambassador in several states of Middle and Latin America. In Honduras he was involved in the Iran-Contra affair. In El Salvador, where he had been Ambassador during the civil war, he, according to a report of a UN truth commission, supported the man responsible for the murder of Archbishop Romero, and impeded in 1989 the investigation into the murder of a woman, her daughter and six Jesuits by soldiers of the government. (Scheffran 199:63). There are also other indicators pointing in the same direction. For example: General Clark accused Yugoslavia of bringing two battalions into Kosovo around Christmas time, and that movement was not announced to OSCE. According to Loquai the general’s accusation was false: The troops - companies not battalions - were already in Kosovo and their movement had been announced to OSCE in compliance with the agreement (Loquai 2000:36p).

  • (12) : And was therefore a blatant breach of international law.