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Western Press Review: Kosovo -- Whose Victory?

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 14 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentators today focus largely on the agreement on Kosovo reached late Monday between U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Under the accord, Milosevic agreed to end the Serbian offensive against ethnic Albanians and to allow the presence of 2,000 international monitors in the province, while NATO agreed to postpone any military action. Analysts present varying assessments of the agreement, with some seeing it as a victory for the West and others as a victory for Milosevic.

FINANCIAL TIMES: NATO helped ensure the concessions were won peacefully

Britain's Financial Times calls the accord "a diplomatic tour de force (for Mr.) Holbrooke" who, the paper says, "appears to have wrested major concessions from Slobodan Milosevic..." In its editorial, the paper writes further: "By making the threat of air strikes so credible, NATO helped ensure the concessions were won peacefully. But," it adds, "the dispatch of unarmed civilians to monitor conditions in Kosovo is a second-best solution, and Mr. Holbrooke has made less headway on getting autonomy for Kosovo's (ethnic) Albanian majority."

The FT also says: "Mr. Milosevic has moved a long way since last Spring when, on the outbreak of violence, he rejected any outside intervention....(An important step now) is to use the political momentum provided by the agreement to get serious negotiations on autonomy under way. Mr. Milosevic must be held to his new promise of a 'self-governing' Kosovo."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: The chancelleries have nothing to crow about

The Daily Telegraph takes a very different point of view, titling its editorial "Milosevic Escapes Again." The paper writes: "NATO chancelleries proclaim that a credible threat of force has persuaded (Mr. Milosevic) to back down . But the past seven years make it difficult to believe that they were ever serious about launching air strikes."

The DT goes on: "There are convincing grounds for indicting Mr. Milosevic, the architect of ethnic cleansing, as a war criminal. The West prefers, rather, to regard him as an essential interlocutor in the search for peace....This summer he was even used by the alliance as a means of crushing the Kosovo Liberation Army."

The paper concludes: "(Mr. Milosevic) still has the power to frustrate implementation of his agreement with Mr. Holbrooke, knowing that NATO is terrified of engaging in military action that might lead to the deployment of ground forces....The deal (Mr. Holbrooke) engineered (in 1995) on Bosnia was deeply flawed, and so is the one on Kosovo. The chancelleries have nothing to crow about."

SUEDDEUTSCH ZEITUNG: The alliance has got little more than a two-penny concession

In Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, editorial-page director Josef Joffe is also quite skeptical about the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement. In a commentary, Joffe writes: "Milosevic has given in, so he says. But at what price?....The alliance, but above all Washington, has spent millions in political capital for the mobilization. What they have got, however, is little more than a two-penny concession from...Milosevic."

Joffe continues: "(Milosevic) will --he says-- end his violence against the ethnic Albanians in Serbia's southern Kosovo province and allow a 2,000-strong troop of observers into the country. Now where have we seen this game before? Ah yes, in the Iraq of Saddam Hussein."

"Can NATO win?" Joffe asks. "Can it force Belgrade to withdraw from Kosovo and enter into meaningful and serious discussions with the Albanians about autonomy? Only," he answers, "if the alliance's (force) activation order is unlimited in time and its members remain resolute."

He sums up: "Milosevic will only work towards solving conflicts at home while the sword of NATO hangs over his head. If the alliance cannot demonstrate this force, the victor will be Milosevic."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Milosevic has done nothing more than make a few promises

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung notes that Holbrooke spoke of a "breakthrough" in describing the agreement with Milosevic. But in its editorial, the paper asks: "A breakthrough to where?"

The FAZ also asks: "In what respect did the Western powers achieve any kind of breakthrough by threatening military action? Milosevic has done nothing more than make a few promises....The Belgrade ruler has broken many such pledges in the past. So one more set of promises does not really count for much. Maybe," the paper concludes, "one day they will perhaps not count much to the West as well."

LA STAMPA: It remains to be seen whether a diplomatic solution is still possible

Italy's La Stampa says that "it remains to be seen whether a diplomatic solution is still possible. Nobody should be led to believe that the odyssey of 300,000 (ethnic Albanian Kosovo) refugees can be ended by airstrikes and rockets," the paper writes in an editorial. "Many refugees probably fear that military action will further aggravate their situation. They can only be helped when normal conditions and security are attained --and this cannot come from the skies."

NEW YORK TIMES: Milosevic is incorrigible

The New York Times is a bit more sanguine about the Kosovo accord. In its editorial, the paper writes: "Peace and reconciliation are not coming to Kosovo, but at least the displacement and killing of civilians may abate under an agreement reached with...Milosevic. The deal...can save lives if it is vigorously enforced by the United States and its European allies."

The paper goes on to say: "Milosevic has often broken his commitments. In this case, his assent to NATO monitoring flights over Serbia can help provide the means for early detection and swift retaliation for any Serbian violations of the accord....NATO must remain ready to conduct air strikes if Milosevic breaks the agreement."

The NYT concludes: "Milosevic is incorrigible, and Washington has gained only a respite from his abuse and atrocities. Even as he retreats in Kosovo, his men have threatened the lives of independent journalists, scholars and politicians in Serbia who question his autocratic rule. But the killing and intimidation may stop in Kosovo --at least for now."

TRIBUNE DE GENEVE: Better late than never

In a signed editorial in Switzerland's Tribune de Geneve, Andre Naef writes: "Better late than never: Finally united and resolved, NATO appears to have forced Slobodan Milosevic to retreat. But it's crucial that the alliance not let down its guard."

Naef continues: "Certainly, Milosevic can boast not only of having protected his country from the devastating fire of the Atlantic Alliance but above all of having avoided the deployment of troops on his territory....Nevertheless, he has to make his peace with 2,000 monitors of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) as well as with NATO observation planes flying over Serbia."

As for some kind of eventual autonomy statute for Kosovo, Naef is not very optimistic. He concludes: "As long as Milosevic holds power in Belgrade, there's nothing to hope for in that respect.".