In June 1999, after 78 days of air strikes, NATO drove out Serbian-dominated Yugoslav forces from Kosovo. The Serb withdrawal included the police, creating a law enforcement vacuum. International organizations, led by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held a mandate with two objectives: To establish law and order in the short term, and to develop an indigenous Kosovo police service that could maintain rule of law in the long term.
The agencies encountered a raw, unsettled security environment. Before the war, Belgrade's Ministry of the Interior had administered the police in Kosovo. The police were mostly ethnic Serbs. In 1989, Milosevic purged ethnic Albanians from the service when he revoked Kosovo's autonomy, replacing government and security officials with ethnic Serbs in order to quash Albanian nationalism. As a result, when Belgrade's forces retreated in 1999, Kosovo was left without a functioning police service. Incidents of ethnic violence, primarily by Albanians against Serbs, along with nonpolitical crime and looting, were frequent. Criminal gangs asserted control in lawless parts of the region. Some 33,000 NATO troops intervened to stem the bloodshed, but lacked the law-enforcement training necessary to restore law and order in a post-conflict setting. The UN reported that "[a] growing atmosphere of fear imperils efforts to create the rule of law in Kosovo."
Kosovo's war-induced demographic shifts posed another significant challenge to restoring calm. Before the conflict, Kosovo's population totaled 1.6 million people, with 90 percent ethnic Albanians and six percent Serbs. Attempts at "ethnic cleansing" created an estimated 800,000 ethnic Albanian refugees in the neighboring countries of Macedonia, Albania, and Montenegro, and an additional 500,000 internally displaced citizens. Fearing retribution, an estimated 100,000 Kosovan Serbs, nearly half the Serb population in the region, fled north to Serbia.
UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of June 1999 established UNMIK, vesting it with all legislative and executive authority over Kosovo -- a unique and powerful executive mandate. Bernard Kouchner, the former French health minister who served as the special representative of the secretary general for the mission, made Sven Frederiksen, a Danish policeman with previous experience in the Balkans, UNMIK's first police commissioner.
UNMIK's top priority was to provide interim law-enforcement services and to create institutions in Kosovo that could support law and order -- specifically, an independent Kosovo Police Service. Doing so required recruiting, vetting, training, and deploying thousands of Kosovan police, creating effective monitoring and oversight institutions, and, gradually, transferring policing responsibilities from UNMIK to Kosovan police themselves, a process that would take years.
From the outset, UNMIK and OSCE had to manage a variety of potential obstacles. One issue was the former Kosovo Liberation Army troops. Excluded from the new police service, and without favorable economic prospects, these former troops were capable of causing significant unrest. To neutralize this threat, Kouchner assigned NATO the job of creating a Kosovo Protection Corps. It would consist of 5,000 active and reserve personnel recruited from among the demobilized military. Members of this corps would be unarmed and would serve in an emergency-response capacity, by assisting in reconstruction, land mine removal, and search-and-rescue operations.
Widespread concern about political meddling posed another challenge. Given the history of police abuse under the Yugoslav system, Kosovans did not view the police as competent problem solvers, so the new Kosovan police faced an uphill battle as it tried to earn public trust. Additionally, UNMIK feared that politicians in positions of authority for the first time would try to hinder the development of a professional, apolitical police service for personal gain. Infighting among members of the Kosovo Transitional Council did not help matters, making it difficult for planners to elicit input and advice from Kosovans. Moreover, police leaders were weary of the Belgrade government's potential interest in thwarting the development of functional institutions that might support a future Kosovan secession.