Pristina – Kosovo, which on Wednesday celebrates the 20th anniversary of the end of its war and the withdrawal of Serbian forces, broke away from Serbia after the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia.
Here are the main events since 1945 that have shaped this predominantly ethnic Albanian country, whose sovereignty is still denied by Belgrade.
– Yugoslavia breaks apart –
The break-up of Yugoslavia
After World War II the small landlocked territory of Kosovo is integrated into communist leader Josip Broz Tito’s Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.
Kosovo is part of Serbia, one of the six Yugoslavia republics, but its status as an autonomous province is significantly extended in 1974.
With its historic Serbian Orthodox monasteries, Kosovo is cherished by Serbs, who consider it the cradle of their religion and identity.
In 1989 Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic begins to forcefully strip Kosovo of its autonomy, later pledging “unity” by bringing the province totally under Serbian rule.
A year later, Kosovo Albanians decide to declare independence, which the Serbian government rejects.
Yugoslavia starts to collapse in 1991, with Slovenia fighting a brief 10-day war for its independence. Croatia’s inter-ethnic conflict erupts in the same year and the Bosnian war in 1992.
The United Nations admits the three ex-Yugoslav republics in 1992 and the conflicts end in 1995.
But Kosovo’s status remains unresolved.
In 1998 Milosevic again turns his attention to the province. Serbian forces begin a crackdown on the recently-formed guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in a conflict that claims around 13,000 mostly ethnic Albanian lives over about 15 months.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the repression, streaming to neighbouring Albania and Macedonia.
– Under international watch –
The NATO alliance decides to intervene, launching a 78-day bombing campaign on Serbia in 1999 that leaves 500 civilians dead, including Albanians, Serbs, and Roma, according to Human Rights Watch estimates.
The offensive culminates in the withdrawal of Serbian forces from Kosovo, which becomes a UN protectorate.
Tensions persist between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian and Serb populations, notably in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica where the two communities are almost completely separated by a river.
In 2004 several days of anti-Serb rioting by ethnic Albanians across Kosovo leaves 19 dead and many more injured.
UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, after leading about a year of mostly fruitless talks between Kosovo and Serbia, proposes a plan in 2007 for “internationally supervised” independence as the “only viable option” for Kosovo.
– Kosovo goes solo –
On February 17, 2008 Kosovo’s parliament unilaterally declares independence.
It is recognised by the United States and many European countries but rejected by a number of states including Russia and Spain, which are concerned the move could encourage their own independence-minded regions.
A year later Kosovo joins the IMF and World Bank. In 2010 the UN’s top court gives formal backing to its independence, saying it conforms with international law.
But Serbia continues to deny sovereignty, and Russia’s threat to use a UN Security Council veto stops Kosovo becoming a UN member-state.
EU-brokered negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina to improve relations begin in 2011, and Belgrade wins EU candidate status the following year.
Kosovo remains under NATO protection.
The negotiations to normalise ties have ground to a halt in recent months after a series of diplomatic clashes.
In a sign of fresh tensions, in late May Kosovo banned visits by Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic after she made comments interpreted as “racist”.
After a first fruitless summit sponsored by France and Germany in Berlin in April, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic agree to meet again in Paris in early July.
An estimated 120,000 Serbs remain in Kosovo, in the north and in a dozen enclaves.
The Kosovo conflict in pictures (slideshow)