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Western Press Review: Kosovo Problem Remains A Burning Issue

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 22 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As they have throughout the week, Western press commentators today are asking questions about how the crisis in Kosovo can be resolved and whether or not NATO should use force to help bring about a resolution. Most agree in condemning Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic for fanning the flames of inter-ethnic warfare in Serbia's southern province, but there are varying views on how the crisis can be ended and what role the West should play.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is only one solution

"[Should NATO] Intervene or Not Intervene?" asks Josef Joffe, Editorial-Page Director of Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung, in a commentary in his paper today. He says there are similarities between NATO's treatment of Milosevic and the U.S.-British behavior toward Iraq's Saddam Hussein late last year. But the parallels are limited, Joffe writes: "Whereas the dual alliance of the U.S. and Britain does not just issue threats, but acts, NATO cannot really make up its mind to unleash the dogs of war in the Balkans."

The commentary continues: "There is a good reason for this. Even less than in the Gulf is there an ideal political scenario one can imagine for Kosovo that would be served by violence....The only thing clear in Kosovo is the humanitarian situation, and atrocious. But the UCK, the Kosovo Liberation Army of Kosovar Albanians, is not interested in political solutions. What it wants is final victory, which means an independent Kosovo....That is why the alliance is hesitating [to intervene]."

But Joffe believes "there is only one solution, and that is for NATO to bomb Milosevic to the negotiating table and issue the UCK with a credible warning that it will be abandoned to its fate, that is to the wrath of the Serbs, if it does not show itself prepared to negotiate....After that...several tens of thousands of NATO troops [should go to] Kosovo...thank the OSCE monitors and send them home....Anything else," Joffe concludes, "will convince neither Milosevic nor the UCK."

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Foreign governments are fiddling while Kosovo burns

Britain's Daily Telegraph seeks in an editorial to explain "why Kosovo bleeds." It asks: "What are foreign governments doing about Kosovo's slow agony?" and answers, "They are fiddling while the province burns." According to the paper, NATO's "approach to Kosovo is infused with an equal mixture of cowardice and cynicism."

The DT writes further: "The Americans are in a funk [that is, fear or panic] about committing ground troops. The Europeans fear to venture on their own. So ministers and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic play up the dangers of [ethnic] Albanian separatism and allow Mr. Milosevic to be their instrument in containing it."

The paper also says: "NATO is repeating in Kosovo the tragic mistake of the United Nations in Bosnia. Faced with a greater evil, the refusal of Belgrade to grant the Kosovars self-determination, and a lesser [evil], the recourse to violence by [ethnic Albanians], it has refused to take sides. That specious even-handedness ended in Bosnia with the replacement of the UN with NATO. [But the solution in Kosovo lies] in a clear commitment to the province's independence backed up, if the deployment of ground forces."

ECONOMIST: A bombing campaign would not in itself be enough

The British weekly Economist carries an editorial on the "outrage in Kosovo" in its current issue (dated Jan. 23-29). It asks, "Is it time for NATO's long-threatened air strikes against the Serbs?" The magazine answers: "If air strikes become the only way of averting a catastrophic loss of Western moral authority, they will have to be carried out."

"Unfortunately," it adds immediately, "...a bombing campaign would not in itself be enough to meet all the challenges posed by Serb brutishness -- and the killings, kidnappings and intimidation by ethnic-Albanian fighters -- in Kosovo.... If the [West] conducts an air campaign against a sovereign country of nearly 11 million people, it will have to acknowledge...its responsibility for the future of the rump Yugoslav state..."

The Economist continues: "This would mean not only deploying armed peace-keepers...but setting out an internationally agreed formula for the political future of the federation....[The West should also call] immediately and unequivocally for the elevation of Kosovo to the status of a third republic, coequal with Serbia and Montenegro, in the Yugoslav federation."

AFTENPOSTEN: NATO's dilemma in Kosovo is threefold

Nils Udgaard, the foreign editor of Norway's daily Aftenposten, comments today: "It is not so easy to put into practice NATO Secretary General Javier Solana's dictum that "if the use of power is the only language Slobodan Milosevic understands, then he should be spoken to in this language. The problem for NATO," he adds, "is that the 'use of power' is not a solution [to the Kosovo problem]."

Udgaard believes that "NATO's dilemma in Kosovo is threefold. First, the Western powers do not really want to see Kosovo independent. Second, they will not send ground troops to fight against Milosevic's forces in Kosovo. And third, they do not have the means to put [similar] military pressure on the UCK. A NATO air-strike against the Serbs," he adds, "would mean the Alliance was in effect putting its forces at the service of the UCK."

The commentary goes on: "While NATO has identified possible [air] targets within Serbia, it has no idea what to do with the UCK. Slobodan Milosevic is using this imbalance for all it is worth. It is his excuse --'I am dealing with terrorists!'-- for having broken the October cease-fire agreement [brokered by the U.S.]."

Udgaard, like other commentators today, concludes: "Only [NATO] ground forces [in Kosovo] can keep the warring parties apart from each other. But neither Western Europe nor the U.S. are likely to decide in favor of dispatching such troops to the Balkans."

STUTTGARTER NACHRICHTEN: Military intervention would not help

Germany's Stuttgarter Nachrichten believes the situation in Kosovo should not be compared with old and new problems in Bosnia. The paper opposes NATO military action against Serbia, writing in an editorial: "Bombing Belgrade would help the wrong side. Milosevic could make use of Western military intervention for his own propaganda purposes. And the partly terrorist UCK...would use a NATO attack on Serbian positions as support for its own military objectives. But," the editorial concludes, "military intervention would not help civilians --neither the Albanian majority nor the Serbian minority [in Kosovo]."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The West's diplomats will be made to look ridiculous

The U.S. press also contains considerable comment on Kosovo. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal Europe today carries a "warning to diplomats assigned to implement Western policy in Kosovo: You will be made to look ridiculous. Either you will issue a threat that your bosses back home will not implement, or you will emerge from [Milosevic's] lair to admit that, in effect, the Yugoslav dictator has somehow gained the upper hand."

"That," the WSJ explains, "...has been the fate of every luckless envoy sent to Belgrade to threaten, cajole or beg...Milosevic to stop killing ethnic Albanians in Kosovo." It adds: "Now that Serb forces have gone on another killing spree, [a slew of] Western negotiators have been passing through Belgrade to warn Milosevic of the dire consequences of his actions..."

The paper sums up: "The problem here is not that the West's diplomats are incompetent. Nor is it that [Milosevic] is some kind of criminal genius....Rather, the problem is the policy-makers in Western capitals have yet to formulate an effective plan to stop the killing or, for that matter, any plan at all....It is time to recognize Kosovo's right to form a state free from Serb aggression. Then, perhaps, the West's diplomats...could go about their work with less embarrassment."

BALTIMORE SUN: Milosevic should restore the Kosovo majority's autonomy

According to the Baltimore Sun, "Milosevic should be held to agreements [by NATO], not allowed to start ethnic war." In an editorial yesterday, the paper wrote: "It is not [Milosevic's] sovereign right to uproot [ethnic] Albanians from their homes in Serbia's Kosovo province, to order them killed or to replicate the massacres that forces under him committed in Croatia and Bosnia earlier in the decade."

The editorial went on to say: "Organized Europe [through the OSCE] is determined not to let Mr. Milosevic disturb the peace of the continent just to strengthen his grip on Serbia. That means not allowing him to start a war of nations on religious grounds, Orthodox Christian against Muslim, across southeastern Europe."

And the Sun concluded: "There are sound arguments for keeping Kosovo within sovereign Serbia, but Mr. Milosevic is destroying them. Under the late Communist dictator Tito, Kosovo was autonomous, with majority ethnic Albanians in charge. Mr. Milosevic destroyed that, and lives with the consequences. He should restore the Kosovo majority's autonomy, not kill and displace and intimidate."

WASHINGTON POST: It is time to recognize Kosovo's independence

Today's Washington Post carries a commentary calling for independence for Kosovo by Mitch McConnell, a Republican senator from Kentucky. He writes: "It is time for the U.S. to accept reality, recognize Kosovo's independence and provide Pristina's leadership with the political and security assistance necessary to halt Serbia's genocidal war."

McConnell goes on: "The [October Richard] Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement for Kosovo has failed. There is no cease-fire. The [alleged Serb] massacre in [the ethnic-Albanian village of] Racak [a week ago] is only the latest example of weekly Serbian violence. Invariably, the victims are civilians....In addition to violating the cease-fire, the Serbs have failed to comply with another key aspect of the agreement [--on force levels]....In fact, a senior American official acknowledged the effort to verify the troop withdrawal was a farce. No one knows how many Serbs are still deployed in Kosovo."

So, McConnell reasons, U.S. "policies must recognize the essential goal: independence for Kosovo." To achieve it, he recommends several steps, including: "[the suspension of] U.S. funds for the OSCE observers; forcing a "NATO vote to implement the activation order for airs strikes [against] Serbia;" and, finally, recognition of Kosovo's independence and [implementation of plans] to arm the UCK."

The commentator sums up: "Facing hard realities has always been America's best course. It is the only course to follow in Kosovo."