Chronology: Serbs again lose Kosovo heartland

( dpa )- Kosovo's declaration of independence from Belgrade caps a decades-long struggle for control over Serbia's historic heartland by the territory's Albanian population.

Serbs, who see the territory, home to hundreds of medieval churches, monasteries and shrines, as the cradle of their national spirit, say they will never give Kosovo up.

Serbs first lost Kosovo when their declining empire suffered a huge defeat to Ottoman Turks in a 1389 battle. They waited five centuries, until 1912 to return the land to Serbian rule.

But Serbs have since lost the population battle to Albanians, who now make up a 90-per-cent majority. Nine years after they again lost control over Kosovo in war, Serbs are now also losing even the formal hold over it.

Some of the crucial dates in the history of the most recent conflict in Europe:

1945 - Kosovo becomes a province of Serbia, the largest republic of the new, Communist Yugoslav federation.

1975 - With Yugoslavia's new constitution, Kosovo acquires wide-ranging autonomy and a self-governing authority.

1989 - With Slobodan Milosevic rising to power on a surge of national awakening in Serbia, Belgrade scraps the autonomy of the increasingly restive Kosovo.

1990 - On July 2, legislators of the dissolved provincial parliament declare independence from Serbia, an act which the international community ignores.

1998 - After years of non-violent resistance through parallel institutions under the guidance of the moderate Ibrahim Rugova, the extremists among Kosovo Albanians take the initiative. The guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army UCK launches attacks on police, military and Serb civilians. Milosevic's security apparatus cracks down on the rebels with disproportionate force, effectively starting a war.

1999 - Talks of Albanian leaders and Belgrade - mediated in Rambouillet, near Paris by the Contact Group of big powers - fail. An escalation of violence in Kosovo produces huge waves of refugees and on March 24 NATO launches an aerial bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to stop the bloodshed and the exodus.

After 78 days Belgrade capitulates and orders its troops out of Kosovo, making room for a NATO-led peacekeeping mission, but only after wrangling out a UN resolution guaranteeing it sovereignty over Kosovo. The same resolution, 1244, introduced a UN administration to govern Kosovo.

2004 - On March 17 concerted Kosovo-wide riots by Albanians leave 19 dead and hundreds injured. Thousands of Serbs flee their enclaves as hundreds of their homes and dozens of churches are set on fire. The eruption of violence was never properly explained and instigators were poorly prosecuted. The incident was used by Belgrade as an argument against Kosovo's independence.

2006 - In February in Vienna UN launch first direct talks on the status of Kosovo between Belgrade and the meanwhile fully-fledged Kosovo authorities. The Vienna talks produce no result.

2007 - Another round of last-ditch talks, organized after Russia shoots down an attempt at releasing Kosovo from Serbia's sovereignty in the UN, fails by the December 10 deadline, paving the way for a unilateral declaration of independence by Pristina with the support of the United States and leading European Nations.

2008 - On January 17, Kosovo declares independence. Though expecting quick recognition and support from much of the West, it does not count on UN membership in the near future owing to opposition from Serbia's ally, Russia.

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