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Western Press Review: Interethnic Violence Erupts In Kosovo And The One-Year Anniversary Of War In Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 19 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war (20 March), much of the press devotes considerable attention to assessing what has been achieved since the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein. The anniversary is somewhat eclipsed, however, by a surge of new violence in Kosovo. Three Albanian teenagers drowned this week in the UN protectorate when they were allegedly chased into a river by Serbian youths. The drownings precipitated an angry reaction from Albanians and sparked retaliatory violence aimed at the Serbian community, which left 20 dead and destroyed dozens of homes.


A lengthy analysis today says that as the one-year anniversary approaches of the launch of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, it is a good time to take stock "of what has been accomplished and what has not." In the short term, the paper says, the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein "have done virtually nothing to stop terrorism." Indeed, it says, the war in Iraq has "diverted scarce resources from the war against terrorism in Afghanistan and other places."

Freedom from the former regime "has come at a high price" for many Iraqis who have been injured or had family members killed in the continuing violence in the country. Nor have the diplomatic rifts over the war been repaired in the year since the first bombs were dropped.

Nevertheless, the paper says, "there have been important gains that are the basis of our hopes for the future." A "bloodthirsty dictator" known for systematic torture, rape, and murder has been toppled and is awaiting trial. An interim Iraqi constitution has been adopted, an important step toward establishing a democratic government. The restoration of basic services continues, and some Iraqis are expressing more satisfaction with the way things are unfolding.

But the United States demonstrated "a bewildering lack of planning" for the postwar occupation of Iraq. The U.S. administration "seemed to believe its own talk about American soldiers being greeted with flowers as an army of liberation," and was unprepared for the "total collapse" of the country.

For Iraq's future stability, "The New York Times" says the "only answer is greater peacekeeping and police help through the United Nations." Contributions are needed from countries the world over, but are unlikely to come until they see "real United Nations authority" prevailing in Iraq.


The British daily "The Independent" says this week's violence in Kosovo "has not erupted out of nowhere. Kept out of the headlines by more contentious military conflicts elsewhere, it has been simmering more or less quietly ever since the official end of hostilities in 1999."

The agreement that ended the 1998-99 conflict in the UN protectorate "was the best compromise that could be agreed at the time. But it fell very short of providing any lasting solution, and the more months that pass, the more glaring its longer-term inadequacies appear."

The paper says a "large part of the problem" is that the future status of Kosovo -- whether destined to remain a part of Serbia, included in elements of the former Yugoslavia, or independent -- has not been determined. As so often happens with diplomacy, "the thorniest question was left until last."

The British daily says, "Large amounts of foreign money have been poured into Kosovo, most of it as aid." But with "no certainty about Kosovo's status, outside investors have fled."

The "uneasy peace that has prevailed in much of former Yugoslavia since the Kosovo conflict has been held up as a model of what peacekeeping and nation-building can do, when the international will is sufficiently strong." If the Kosovo model were to unravel and collapse, "the slender hope that exists for Afghanistan and Iraq could evaporate overnight."


A second item in "The Independent" today looks at the economic factors behind this week's upsurge in violence in Kosovo. Marcus Tanner of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting says, "Much of the tension of recent days would have dissipated if people had jobs, but with international monitors preoccupied with ensuring ethnic parity in local government bodies, scant thought has been paid to Kosovo's shambolic economy."

Now, says Tanner, "factor in Albania's very youthful population -- witness the crowds of young men milling around Pristina at any time of day -- and you have some of the ingredients that make up Kosovo's volatile cocktail. Few see much cause for hope." With 70 percent of Kosovars unemployed, many are "bored, edgy and poor."

Tanner says a few hundred more NATO peacekeepers "may put the lid back on Kosovo's cauldron for the next few weeks or months." But without "progress both on Kosovo's economy and on its final status, what we are seeing now is no more than a holding operation."


Columnist William Pratt says that following the 11 March terrorist bombings in Madrid, French and German leaders have come to agree on at least one thing -- terrorism "is a threat to all democracies." But many observers have called attention to another realization -- the surprise ouster of Spain's ruling government in elections just days after the blast showed that a single terrorist act could determine the outcome of an election.

That is one possibility, says Pratt. But another is that Spanish voters "actually may have done what voters are supposed to do. They unseated the Popular Party led by Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar because they no longer trusted it."

Aznar's government first aroused suspicion with its handling of the 2002 "Prestige" oil spill off the northern coast of Spain. With 2003 came "a new credibility problem -- Aznar stood unwaveringly behind [U.S.] President George W. Bush's efforts to overthrow Saddam Hussein, even though most of the nation opposed the war." Then came the attacks last week.

"In the immediate aftermath, the government had no problem finding a suspect, the Basque separatist group ETA. And it was reluctant to accept any other theory." But Pratt says: "As election day approached and the possibility of Al-Qaeda involvement grew, voters apparently began to suspect the government was trying to keep the fallout over Iraq out of the election. And they let [Aznar's] Popular Party know how they felt."

The question of whether or not a leader is trustworthy should always be on the minds of voters, says Pratt -- "every time they go to the polls."


"The eruption of violence between Albanians and Serbs in Kosovo depressingly confirms that relations between them have not improved since NATO intervened there in 1999."

Incidents such as the riots this week directed against Kosovo's Serbian quarter "reveal deeper political and cultural conflicts and conditions. Four years after the NATO intervention, there has been little progress towards a political settlement." Kosovo remains a part of the loose federation of Serbia and Montenegro, but its leadership continues to seek independence -- and this "is entirely unacceptable to nationalist opinion in Serbia."

Yesterday, NATO sent more than 1,000 more troops to Kosovo "and appealed for an end to the violence. There are fears that if it continues, the conflict will escalate, affecting efforts to stabilize other parts of the former Yugoslavia." The Irish daily says, "This eruption is a warning of how dangerous that would be, not only for Kosovo but for its neighbors, too."


Morton Abramowitz of both the Century Foundation and the International Crisis Group says events this week in the UN protectorate of Kosovo make it more likely that the enclave will eventually be divided between its Albanian and Serbian communities.

The United States and Europe "apparently never take wake-up calls in the Balkans but end up responding only to violence." They close their eyes "and declare that everything is going well in that part of the world. In fact, things have not been going well for years. Sustainable peace and progress in the region are impossible until the Kosovo issue, however difficult, is resolved."

After the 1999 NATO intervention in the province, a "hapless UN administration" established a weak government "and insisted that it meet impossible political and economic goals before Kosovo's final status can even be considered. The UN administration failed to generate any serious investment, leaving Kosovo with unemployment of roughly 60 percent -- a potential tinderbox," Abramowitz says.

And the violence "is not likely to end until the West stops relying on failed assumptions about a multiethnic Kosovo, a united Serbia-Montenegro-Kosovo and the power of the European Union to resolve all difficult political issues in the Balkans." A lasting solution "requires the West to focus now on the final status of Kosovo before extremists of all stripes take over."

Abramowitz says the idea "of a multiethnic Kosovo has regrettably become totally unrealistic, and the stage may have been set for Kosovo's partition."