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Western Press Review: Milosevic Signals To West: What Now?

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 17 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary expresses broad lack of enthusiasm over Russian President Boris Yeltsin's claim of a diplomatic breakthrough yesterday on Kosova.

NEW YORK TIMES: Russian officials were quick to cast Milosovic's pledges as an important breakthrough

A New York Times analysis by Michael R. Gordon says that assurances from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic may have been more tactical than genuine. Gordan writes from Moscow: "Milosevic promised (yesterday) to make a series of concessions over Kosova to forestall military action by the West. But he stopped short of meeting one key demand: the withdrawal of Serbian security forces accused of attacking ethnic Albanians in the province."

The writer contends: "Russian officials, who like Milosevic, are eager to head off NATO air strikes, were quick to cast his pledges as an important breakthrough. It was far from clear, however, whether Milosevic's pledges were merely tactical or whether he was genuinely prepared to ease the repression in Kosova, whose population is predominantly ethnic Albanian."

GUARDIAN: Milosevic called NATO's bluff

Writing also from Moscow, James Meek puts it bluntly in The Guardian, London. Meek asserts that Milosevic "called NATO's bluff yesterday by refusing to withdraw his troops from Kosova." The writer says: "He clearly felt that NATO would never find the consensus to mount its first offensive against another country."

Meek evokes shades of Chechnya. He writes: "Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, failed to convince Mr. Milosevic to withdraw troops from Kosova. He may not have tried, as most Russian policymakers sympathize with the Serbs in Kosova, seeing their own restive autonomies reflected in the rebel province."

TIMES: As long as the KLA fails to develop a political voice, talks will be meaningless

Tom Walker, commenting in The Times, London, employs the same gamblers' metaphor. He writes: "In saying he is prepared for dialogue with his rebellious ethnic Albanians, President Milosevic of Yugoslavia again is calling the international community's bluff."

He knows that as long as the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) fails to develop a political voice, talks will be meaningless. The KLA leaves its seat empty at the negotiating table at its own peril, for a guerrilla organization espousing independence at any cost cannot expect the long-term sympathy of Western powers, who stick to their line that Kosova's future rests within Yugoslavia."

BOSTON GLOBE: Both leaders made strides toward getting what they need

In the Boston Globe, David Filipov's analysis suggests the whole exercise is one of narrow self-interests. He writes: "President Boris Yeltsin, his country teetering on the brink of economic meltdown, needs cash. And Yugoslavian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, waging a brutal crackdown in Kosova, but wary of Western military intervention, needs time. As the conflict in the mainly Albanian southern Serbian province intensified, both leaders (yesterday) made strides toward getting what they need, but appeared to make little headway on ending the crisis in Kosova.

"In a Kremlin meeting with Yeltsin, Milosevic promised to hold talks with moderate Albanian leaders in Kosova, and accepted other conditions set by the U.S. and other Western nations to head off military intervention by NATO. That agreement may buy Milosevic some time. But the Serbian leader flatly refused the West's main demand, the withdrawal of Serbian security forces."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Who should participate in the talks?

A Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung news analysis by Matthias Rueb explores the flaw in Milosevic's offer. Rueb writes: "Should it come to serious talks between Serbia and Albania, (the) question arises: who should participate?" He points out that the Kosova-Albanian and Serbian delegations have met once before, and says: "But there was no more than an exchange of polite phrases."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: Western officials reacted coolly to the agreement

Neil King Jr., writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe, says the Moscow declarations have generated little, if any, new expectations. He writes: "Under threat from the West and after a day of high-level diplomacy in Moscow, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic pledged to stop any attacks on Kosova's civilian population, and to begin immediate discussions with the province's ethnic Albanian leaders. But Western officials reacted coolly to the agreement, saying it fell short of demands that Belgrade impose an immediate cease-fire and pull back its armed forces."

King reports: "Yugoslav army and special police units trying to quash a separatist insurgency have killed scores of ethnic Albanian civilians in recent weeks, and sent tens of thousands fleeing destroyed villages in western Kosova," and says: "Milosevic said he was ready to resume talks with the Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova, who broke off preliminary discussions last month, after Serb forces began shelling villages near the Albanian border. But, few expect that Mr. Rugova will agree to fresh talks until Mr. Milosevic drastically reduces his forces in Kosova and stops his attacks on civilians."