Yugoslavia's disintegration was well advanced when the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) emerged in the mid-1990s to challenge Serbian rule. Patchy guerrilla conflict escalated into a brutal war between the KLA and Serbia by the winter of 1998-1999 and only ended when NATO intervened, launching an 89 day bombing campaign against the Republic of Serbia and eventually occupying Kosovo itself. Since the war, an international administration—drawn from NATO and the UN, and later the EU—has guaranteed security in the breakaway territory while at the same time overseeing progressive liberal democratic reforms. Kosovo has assumed increasing autonomy over the period and in February 2008 unilaterally declared its independence from Serbia, a move that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) determined in July 2010 'did not violate international law'.
Kosovo's status is far from settled, however, and continues to cause acute diplomatic and political conflict with Serbia—which rejects Kosovo's secessionist aims—and fuel low-level but persistent inter-ethnic conflict within Kosovo's borders. The possibility for talks between the two emerged in the wake of the ICJ ruling, but the likelihood of such talks resolving the question of Kosovo's status in the near term is uncertain. In the meantime, the energies of Belgrade and Pristina have been directed towards gaining the upper hand in the ethnic Serb-dominated stretch of Kosovo that lies north of the Ibar river, where both capitals operate 'parallel administrations' and where the majority of inter-ethnic violence occurs. The situation is further complicated by Serbia’s European Union aspirations. The EU has said that ‘addressing the problems in northern Kosovo, while respecting the territorial integrity of Kosovo and the particular needs of the local population,’ is essential to Serbia’s accession. However, as the Serbian government remains decidedly against Kosovo’s independence, the relationship remains tense.