Kosovo is an independent, sovereign country, but Serbia still considers Kosovo to be part of Serbia. Kosovo has emerged at the end of a long and arduous journey with independence achieved, but many serious challenges ahead. Their accomplishments throughout the difficult status determination period -- are admirable and should be recognized.

In late 1998, Slobodan Milosevic unleashed a brutal police and military campaign against Kosovo. As Milosevic's ethnic cleansing campaign progressed, over 800,000 ethnic Albanians were forced from their homes in Kosovo. Intense international mediation efforts called for Kosovo autonomy and the involvement of NATO troops to preserve the peace. Milosevic's failure to agree triggered a NATO military campaign to halt the violence in Kosovo. This campaign consisted primarily of aerial bombing from March through June 1999. After 78 days, Milosevic capitulated. Shortly thereafter, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1244 (1999), which suspended Belgrade's governance over Kosovo, established the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), and authorized a NATO peacekeeping force.

Soon after the turn of the Century an opinion formed within international community that Kosovo could not return to the status prior to 1999. The majority of international think tanks proposals underlined that Kosovo should be an independent state, but many had different opinions on how this should be achieved. Some proposed that independence should be achieved in phases, or that there should be conditional independence. Others proposed that Kosovo could have official independence but with a limited sovereignty. Yet, some suggested that the EU should devise something entirely new for Kosovo and the Balkan region. Lastly, some suggest that Kosovo should be granted unconditional independence.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. In its declaration of independence, Kosovo embraced multi-ethnicity as a fundamental principle of good governance, welcoming a period of international supervision. Kosovo institutions have not done enough to fully respect and promote the rights and interests of minority communities. While Kosovo’s language law is one of the most progressive in Europe, the implementation of that law has fallen short. Reforms in the Government are needed to strengthen the implementation of the language law and in that way, make government services more accessible to the Kosovo Serb community. Likewise, the Government needs to reform its civil service sector and ensure that it meets the constitutional requirements for minority employment. The Government and municipalities should do more to facilitate the return of all those who wish to return to Kosovo, including facilitating the restitution of property rights and economic growth in returnee communities.

On September 10, 2012, in less than five years after becoming a country, Kosovo marked a milestone by bringing to a close a period of “supervised independence,” which saw international representatives having governing duties alongside local authorities. The plan for this interim period was the brainchild of a former special U.N. envoy and provided a framework for independence with some conditions. But one of the main goals set forth by the plan remains elusive. As international and local authorities marked the end of the “supervised” portion of Kosovo’s independence - the ceremony put the country’s government largely in charge of its own affairs. Still, the European Union's rule of law mission will remain in the country and so will NATO peacekeeping troops.

One main feature of the international plan for Kosovo was decentralization - to insure garanteeing the rights of minorities, especially in the Serbian-populated north. The north is controlled by Belgrade, not by Pristina, so that’s not decentralization. It is de facto partition.

About 90 out of 195 nations have recognized Kosovo as a country so far. Both Kosovo and Serbia want to enter the European Union - but Serbia’s chances are marred by a lack of progress in its relationship with Kosovo, and five EU members have yet to recognize Kosovo.

Relations have gradually improved between ethnic Albanians and the 80,000 Serbs in scattered enclaves to the south of the Ibar River. But a de facto partition of Mitrovica emerged in June 1999 during the chaotic days after NATO's air campaign against Serbia. Serbs erected barricades and informal checkpoints on Mitrovica's three main bridges to prevent ethnic Albanians from returning to homes in the north. The Ibar River cuts through Mitrovica, dividing ethnic Albanians to the south and ethnic Serbs who have clustered together to the north since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. Including villages and other small towns north of the river, about 40,000 ethnic Serbs live in Kosovo to the north of the river.

Tensions in northern Kosovo are fueled by "parallel institutions" -- Serbian government offices funded by Belgrade. Political leaders of northern Kosovo's Serbs refuse to recognize Pristina's 2008 unilateral declaration of independence. They insist that Kosovo will always be part of Serbia. Barricades block the route to the contested Jarinje customs checkpoint -- a flashpoint of conflict between local Serbs and international forces at the northernmost tip of Kosovo on the road leading to Raska, Serbia. Such barricades are watched around-the-clock by the men in the Civil Protection Force, who receive Serbian-dinar salaries from Belgrade worth just over $500 a month. Organized Serbian protesters have clashed there in the past when Kosovo Police and KFOR troops have dismantled barricades only to see them quickly rebuilt.

Kosovo is, thus far, a success story. Still, any number of factors -- continued Serbian pressure, counter-productive reactions from volatile political elites in Kosovo, EU vacillation and weakness, mounting territorial-cum-political tensions in the north, premature NATO withdrawal, or, maybe most serious, failure to secure a strong economic foundation for Kosovo's future -- could create obstacles to Kosovo's enduring survival.

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