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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Killings Cause Outrage

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Prague, 18 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Shock and anger have spread through the international community since the extent of Friday's apparent massacre of ethnic Albanians in southern Kosovo has become clear.

"Horrendous and very serious" is how the head of the Kosovo mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), William Walker, described the incident. He was commenting after touring the site where 45 bodies were found near the village of Racak. A visibly shaken Walker did not hesitate to blame federal Yugoslav security forces for the killings, which he said had been done in execution style. Over the weekend, world leaders, including U.S. President Bill Clinton, expressed their outrage.

Serbian authorities also reacted with outrage at being blamed. They maintain the deaths came in the course of combat with ethnic Albanian rebels and were not a massacre. Serbian President Milan Milutinovic accused Walker, an American, of supporting terrorists and separatism.

The UN Security Council is to meet in special session late today to consider what to do. NATO has decided to send its two top generals to Belgrade to impress the seriousness of the situation on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The generals, NATO Supreme Commander in Europe Wesley Clark and chairman of the Military Committee Klaus Naumann, will be carrying a strong message that Milosevic must live up to his previous commitments to the alliance.

At its emergency meeting yesterday in Brussels, however, NATO did not decide to take military action against the Serbs. That reflects the alliance's caution about becoming involved in a new Balkan war, and its understanding of the limitations of military power in solving a fundamentally political problem.

On the ground, the cease-fire between Serbian forces and the ethnic Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) is endangered, with reports of new fighting going on around Racak today. On Sunday, Serbian forces returned to the village firing heavy weapons and sending villagers fleeing, along with unarmed OSCE monitors who are supposed to be verifying the ceasefire.

The OSCE monitors in Kosovo are observers rather than enforcers, and in the face of tanks and guns cannot impose their will on either party. OSCE spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL today that the organization is "disappointed" that it had not been able to do more in the Racak area. But she maintained that the OSCE mission has not been undermined:

"We hope to continue to increase (the number of our observers). We are not letting this stop our mission. We are going to continue to build up, and continue to work to create a stable environment, and to push on the political side for a stop to this violence."

She said the OSCE had noted often that the mere presence of its unarmed monitors had appeared to cool potential trouble spots, and that violence tended to occur in places where the monitors were not present.

At the same time, Fleming said that cooperation by the Serbs had deteriorated since the Racak massacre allegations. She said the OSCE had called off an investigative trip to the site after the Serbian side had breached the agreed terms:

"They have not been particularly cooperative, no. We have called for an investigation, also including their judge, and we were going to accompany them down to the area, but under the agreement that there would be no police, but they insisted on having police follow them, and so we withdrew, and saw this as a breach of their agreements."

She further noted that the OSCE had called for full and immediate access to the site by the chief prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunal in the Hague, Louise Arbour, and that this request had met with resistance from Belgrade.

According to Fleming, who is based in Vienna, an OSCE spokesman based in the field in Kosovo (Sandy Blyth) said that verifiers had tried today to enter the area of Stimlje, but had been stopped by Serbian authorities. Fighting was reported last week in that area, which is near Racak.

The OSCE says it is hoping to get both sides to renew the cease-fire. Not only the Serbians, but the UCK also has been accused of violations of the truce in the recent past. The OSCE says it does not want to give up, but to continue to exert pressure for a peaceful, negotiated settlement in Kosovo.