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January/February 1999: Racak and Rambouillet

UCK (KLA) fighters
UCK (KLA) fighters. Photo: Glas Javnosti

Kosovo was a province of Serbia inhabited by 1.8 million Kosovar Albanians and 190,000 Kosovar Serbs. After an eight-year non-violent movement, ethnic Albanian rebels took to arms. Their guerrilla force was called the Kosovo Liberation Army, or KLA.

On January 19, 1999, after skirmishes all week with the KLA in the vicinity, Serb forces entered the village of Racak and murdered 45 Kosovar Albanian civilians. An atrocity like that at Racak, all too reminiscent of the atrocities in Bosnia, was exactly what the West feared most another Srebrenica. The actors on the ground were virtually identical: Yugoslav army units, local Serb police, roving paramilitary gangs, and an under-armed international mission with an inadequate mandate.

With the cease-fire in tatters, western leaders pulled out all stops to reach a political solution before the entire region burst into flames. Serb and Kosovar-Albanian representatives were summoned to meet with international mediators in Rambouillet, outside of Paris. The setup was along the lines of the 1995 Dayton peace talks, when Washington sequestered Balkan leaders at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio to hammer out an accord for postwar Bosnia. But this time the Europeans were speaking with one voice. Since Germany held both the EU and the G-8 presidencies at the time, that voice was very often Fischer's, a tall order for the newcomer. The Rambouillet talks ended in failure as the Serbs refused the international demand for NATO troops in Kosovo.

[p. 267]

Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic. 2007. [Oxford University Press]

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