Kosovo is being ruled by the United Nations after tensions between the province’s ethnic Albanian majority and the Serbian government in Belgrade erupted in violence in the late 1990s. The Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic’s refusal of an international agreement to end the political impasse and the abuse of ethnic Albanians brought a massive bombing campaign against targets in Kosovo and Serbia in March of1999. At the same time, vast operations of ethnic cleansing of Kosovo Albanians by Serbian forces resulted in hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping to Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro as well as internally in the province. Thousands of people died in the conflict. Serbian troops were forced out in the summer of 1999 and the UN took over the administration of the province.
As Kosovo is still officially part of Serbia, an agreement between the predominantly independence seeking ethnic Albanian majority of 1.5 million and the local Serb minority of 100,000 remains elusive. Half of the people of Kosovo live in poverty in one of the least economically developed regions in Europe where most citizens are dedicated to agriculture despite the land’s rich mineral resources. Around 21,000 of the Serbs that did not flee during the conflict live in the divided city of Mitrovica, which is watched over by NATO peacekeepers. International diplomats have raised concern over the slow progress of securing their rights. In February 2007, the UN proposed a road to independence that was welcomed by the ethnic Albanians, backed by the U.S.A. but immediately rejected by Russia and Serbia. In the parliamentary elections held in November, former guerrilla leader Hashim Thaci won and immediately announced that Kosovo would declare its unilateral independence after the international talks on the status of Kosovo on December 10, 2007.
According to international NGOs, an estimated 250,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), most of whom are Serbs and Roma who fled their homes, are still unable to return. The overwhelming majority of IDPs live in Serbia, but smaller numbers have also found refuge in Montenegro and parts of Kosovo like Mitrovica where there are 6,500 Serbian IDPs. A further 4,200, mostly Serbs but also Roma and Ashkaeli, were displaced after another outbreak of ethnic violence in March 2004, which effectively put a halt to the rate of return which had slowly built up in preceding years. The clashes marked a further step in the division of communities and resulted in a serious loss of trust in the ability of local authorities and the international community to rebuild a multi-ethnic Kosovo. The people of Kosovo have suffered substantially over the past decade from deep economic, social and political turmoil following the 1999 Kosovo war. According to the World Bank, output has more than halved, income has collapse, less then half of the population is employed, and half living in poverty. The economic performance following the post-conflict boom has not led to a significant creation of jobs and is unlikely to be sustainable without a clarification of Kosovo’s political status.
Poverty disproportionately affects children, the elderly, female headed households, the disabled, non Serb ethnic minorities, the unemployed and precarious job holders. These marginalized groups also face serious health risks as a result of severe industrial pollution in the environment.