Fast Facts: Kosovo

Renewed ethnic violence in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia prompted NATO to bolster its peacekeeping force. Some commonly asked questions about the volatile region's past and its uncertain future:


Q: Is Kosovo a country?

A: No. Although the province has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since the end of its 1998-99 war, it remains formally part of Serbia-Montenegro.


Q: What caused the war?

A: The war began when ethnic Albanian militants took up arms to fight for independence following years of oppression by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who then sent Serb forces into Kosovo to crush the rebellion. It ended in 1999 after NATO launched 78 days of punishing airstrikes on Serbia to halt Milosevic's crackdown.


Q: Why are international peacekeepers still in the country, and how many are there?

A: A NATO-led peacekeeping force deployed in Kosovo after the war to ensure hostilities didn't re-ignite and to help maintain law and order. The force originally numbered about 50,000 troops, including 5,000 Americans; it has been drawn down gradually to a force of 18,500 today, including about 2,000 U.S. soldiers.


Q: What caused this week's clashes to erupt?

A: The violence began when ethnic Albanians blamed Serbs for the drowning deaths of two children and began rampaging in revenge. Ethnic Albanians set fire to Serb homes and churches, and Serbs elsewhere in Serbia responded by torching mosques.


Q: What do both sides want, and why can't they get along?

A: Ethnic Albanians, most of whom are Muslim, dominate Kosovo and want independence from Serbia. Serbs, who are Orthodox Christians, consider the province hallowed ground and the birthplace of Serbian identity, and have refused to yield the territory. Kosovo was the site of an epic battle between Serbs and Turks in 1389.


Q: Why doesn't the United Nations settle the question of Kosovo's final status now?

A: U.N. officials insist the province must firmly establish democracy, human rights and the rule of law and build viable state institutions before its future can be settled. The United States and other world powers have taken a cautious approach on independence, fearing that any redrawing of borders in the Balkans could lead to fresh conflict elsewhere, such as in Macedonia, where ethnic Albanians want autonomy, and Bosnia, whose Serbs also have pressed for statehood.