During the 1999 armed conflict roughly a million ethnic Albanians fled or were forcefully driven from Kosovo by Serb forces. Altogether, more than 11,000 deaths have been reported to The Hague Tribunal by the prosecutors. Some 3,000 people are still missing, of which 2,500 are Albanian, 400 Serbs and 100 Roma.
International mediators later argued that the atrocities committed before and during the war were evidence that restoring Kosovo's subordinate "autonomous" status within Serbia was no longer feasible. Exactly what the alternative solution was, however, remained unclear. In the absence of an international consensus as to Kosovo's status, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) took on the character of a holding operation – governing and, at the same time, tasked with establishing local institutions of self-governance.
The Republic of Kosova was formally disbanded in 2000. It was replaced by UNMIK's Joint Interim Administrative Structure (JIAS) and a council of Kosovar political parties. In 2001 the first free and fair elections, monitored by OSCE, elected the Kuvendit (Parliament), which appointed the first government ("Provisional Institutions of Self-Government", PISG). The assembly's every law, however, as well as the government's every decision, was to require equired UNMIK's endorsement.
Slowly, Kosovo institutions gained more authority. It nonetheless became clear that the situation was not sustainable: Kosovo was paying a high price for its international isolation - as well as for the confusion in areas such as property rights, international credits and debts. Still, inertia prevailed and little was done. It was only after the outbreak of open violence against UNMIK and Serbs in March 2004 that the UN Security Council decided to launch a serious process geared towards "Final Status" negotiations. Within a month new diplomatic battle-lines were drawn by the incoming Kostunica government, when the Serbian parliament voted unanimously that Serbia would not accept any status solution above that of 'substantial autonomy'.
The process leading to Kosovo's recognised independence began with a report written by Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide. Eide set out the arguments why the status quo had to change:
"The United Nations has done a credible and impressive job in fulfilling its mandate in difficult circumstances. But its leverage in Kosovo is diminishing. Kosovo is located in Europe, where strong regional organizations exist. In the future, they — and in particular the European Union (EU) — will have to play the most prominent role in Kosovo. They will have the leverage required and will be able to offer prospects in the framework of the European integration process."
"The international community must do the utmost to ensure that, whatever the eventual status, it does not become a "failed" status. Kosovo cannot remain indefinitely under international administration … Once the process has started it cannot be blocked and must be brought to a conclusion. The international community will need strength to carry the future status process forward."
The report proved to be a turning point in the international debate. A Presidential Statement, issued by the UN Security Council in November 2005, endorsed Eide's conclusions and authorized the launch of a status process.
A UN Special Envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, began conducting negotiations between the different sides in February 2006 in Vienna. At the end of this phase (which lasted about a year,) Ahtisaari drew up a plan for the implementation of a so-called "surveilled independence" of Kosovo.
The so-called Ahtisaari Proposal described the transfer of powers from UNMIK to a Kosovo government under the guidance of a new EU-led International Civilian Representative (ICR). The proposal paid most attention to legal arrangements providing the Kosovo Serb community (and other minorities) with wide ranging rights. It details these rights: the creation of five new Serb-majority municipalities, the protection of cultural sights, a future framework for Mitrovica, and arrangements for possible Serbian financing for Kosovo Serb institutions in Kosovo.
The Ahtisaari Proposal does not mention the word "independence". However, it allows Kosovo to set up an independent security structure with a police force, small armed forces, and its own secret service. Kosovo gains the right to apply for membership in international institutions and to have its own state symbols. The mandate of the ICR would end once an International Steering Committee considered the Ahtisaari Proposal fully implemented.
The Ahtisaari Proposal was rejected by the Republic of Serbia. The adoption of the Ahtisaari Proposal by the UN Security Council was then blocked by Russia, which insisted that a solution should first be endorsed by Belgrade. After weeks of negotiations and four reworked proposals, the UN agreed to open one more round of talks. A high level delegation headed by senior German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger worked until December 2007 before declaring that negotiations had failed.
Thus on 17 February 2008 the Kosovo Parliament unilaterally declared the independence of Kosovo under the guidelines of the Ahtisaari Proposal. On 28 February 2008, as foreseen in the Ahtisaari plan, an International Steering Groupmet for the first time and appointed Dutch diplomat Pieter Feith as the first International Civilian Representative. (Feith is also European Union Special Representative in Kosovo.) This was followed by the recognition of Kosovo's independence by the majority of EU member states, as well as the US, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, Turkey and a number of other countries.
However, as the Ahtisaari Proposal has not been adopted by the UN Security Council, UNMIK's future role in Kosovo remains unclear. The new Kosovo constitution makes no mention of any role for UNMIK beyond the summer of 2008.