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Western Press Review: Underdogs Showing Fangs In Kosovo

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 30 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- As Serb special units opened a military push in Kosovo Province yesterday, commentary and analysis in the Western press examine increasing militancy, anger, and strength of ethnic Albanian rebels there.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: News of the swelling insurgency is hitting home

In the Los Angeles Times today, Richard Boudreaux writes in a news analysis from Poklek, 240 km from the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade: "As radicalized Albanians join the Kosovo Liberation Army, news of the swelling insurgency is hitting home in what's left of war-riven Yugoslavia, stirring resistance to yet another Balkans blood bath. The motivation gap is a problem for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, whose countrymen are deserting the police force and dodging the draft rather than face the world's fastest-growing guerrilla force.

"About 50,000 Yugoslav army troops and Serbian police with tanks and helicopter gunships have been poured into a conflict with classic parallels to lost colonial causes. As in France's battle for Algeria and Russia's fight to crush ethnic separatists in Chechnya, the government here has superior firepower but scant popular support for a war."

Boudreaux writes: "Armed repression has fed the separatist cause since Milosevic canceled Kosovo's autonomous status within Serbia in 1989. Building on a base of peasant self-defense militias that had operated in Kosovo for decades, the guerrillas began sustained attacks on the police last year. The rebels were thought to number no more than a few hundred until March, when Milosevic's first major police assault on separatist villages killed 80 people in the Drenica Valley. Instead of crushing a budding insurgency, the indiscriminate crackdown brought it to full bloom."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: Radical forces gained in power

"The Kosovo Liberation Army has established itself as a new power base, although it has so far escaped any form of political control," commentator Stephan Israel writes today in the Frankfurter Rundschau.

Israel says: "The KLA's structure is blurred: despite the lack of a clearly defined political wing, it is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with. Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy, seems to be the first person to have identified the recent changes."

He writes: "Up until now the ethnic Albanian leader (Ibrahim Rugova of the Democratic League of Kosovo, DLK) has been the only contact for the 'international community,' and now Rugova's power is slipping through his hands as the KLA starts to gain ground. Rugova only has himself to blame for his current predicament, having nurtured the idea of an independent Republic of Kosovo. However, political reality is quite different for the Albanian leader: Rugova's policy of peaceful resistance brought little reward from the repressive regime in Belgrade, and radical forces gained in power over the last months."

The commentator asks, "Who controls the KLA?" And answers: "In Pristina there is a competition on to win influence with the liberation army. Some are very vocal in their claims to power, whilst others are more discreet."

LA REPUBBLICA: It seems there is no longer any room to maneuver

The Italian newspaper La Repubblica editorializes today that a wide war now seems inevitable. The newspaper says: "It seems there is no longer any room to maneuver to achieve a friendly solution in Kosovo. Now one fights and dies hardly ten kilometers from the capital of Pristina. That is a bad sign. All attempts at an international mediation -- from those by capable Richard Holbrooke, who is closest, to those by the EU -- have failed abysmally. Only a miracle can hinder the last battle for which the Serbs have been preparing for some time as they amass men and material in the unhappy province. The U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has fully understood that the situation has reached a point from which there is no return. He has appealed to the world to assure that there will not be another Bosnia. But exorcising the ghost of Bosnia does not solve the problem."

NEW YORK TIMES: Continued fighting could set off a wider regional war

A New York Times analysis by Chris Hedges also is pessimistic. He writes: "The decision by Belgrade to make a push against rebel positions follows efforts by the United States to broker a cease-fire accord and halt the fighting that erupted in the Serbian province in March. But neither Belgrade nor the rebel army, which controls about 40 percent of the province, was willing to make concessions.

"NATO has threatened to carry out air strikes if Belgrade does not withdraw its forces and end attacks, but there was no immediate indication that this latest assault would lead to intervention. There is also a concern among diplomats that continued fighting could set off a wider regional war that would draw in Albania and Macedonia, which has a restive ethnic Albanian minority."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Foreign ministers have toned down earlier threats

Guy Dinmore and Lionel Barber write in a news analysis in the Financial Times, London, that EU diplomats are speaking more softly on the topic of Kosovo and have laid down their big stick. The analysis says: "EU foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg yesterday, toned down earlier threats of military action and made clear their support for U.S.-led diplomacy to end the Serb crackdown."

The writers say: "U.S. diplomats pursued their efforts to contain the conflict. (They) fear that Mr. Rugova, who is committed to a nonviolent campaign for independence, no longer has the power to deliver a settlement that would be accepted by the KLA."

WASHINGTON POST: Military command has decided to begin trying to reverse recent tactical gains by the guerrillas

But writers for The Washington Post, R. Jeffrey Smith and Colin Soloway, say today in an analysis that the time for diplomacy may already be past. They write: "The escalation of fighting indicated that the military command has decided to begin trying to reverse recent tactical gains by the guerrillas, who are seeking to win independence for Kosovo, an impoverished, landlocked province of Yugoslavia's dominant republic, Serbia. U.S. diplomats tried but failed last week to convince the two sides to take steps that would diminish tensions and avoid further violence, such as abandoning key roadblocks. The guerrillas, known as the Kosovo Liberation Army, now control more than a third of Kosovo, which has a population that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian."