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Western Press Review: Showdown On Kosovo

  • Don Hill
  • Dora Slaba

Prague, 3 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentary continues to watch mesmerized as the Kosovo train accelerates toward what may be a crash.

DIE WELT: Disunity has always been the Albanians' curse

Commentator Boris Kalnoky writes from Budapest today in the German newspaper Die Welt that the main barrier to peace in Kosovo may be the Kosovar Albanians. He says: "History will be made in Kosovo this week. Just what it will be, though, is something that is largely in the hands of the province's ethnic Albanian population. By rising up together against Belgrade, they have attracted the interest and involvement of the international community, whose willingness to exert political pressure on their behalf could help the Kosovo Albanians gain a large measure of autonomy while rendering the Serbs militarily powerless in Kosovo.

"The Albanians' problem, however, is that while they have united to fight the Serbs, they have failed to unify on a way to proceed into an era of peace."

Kalnoky concludes: "At the moment when the door to their freedom is open a crack, and could be pushed wide open, the potential for historical deja vu cannot be dismissed: disunity has always been the Albanians' curse. It would be tragic if the way to a better future were blocked not only by the Serbs, but by the Kosovo Albanians themselves."

LOS ANGLES TIMES: There is open hostility between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians

Writing from Yugoslavia, in a Los Angeles Times news analysis, correspondent Paul Watson agrees that the ethnic Albanian leadership approaches a key switch point. He declares: "If NATO's threats force Kosovo's warring sides to start talking peace by Saturday's deadline, Serbs and ethnic Albanians won't be the only enemies sitting at the table. There is open hostility between Kosovo's ethnic Albanians themselves, most significantly between moderate political leaders such as Ibrahim Rugova and some guerrilla commanders who aren't in the mood to compromise with Serbs after 11 months of fighting."

DEISTER UND WESERZEITUNG: The compromise is far from the minimal aims of the Kosovar Albanians

An editorial in Hamlin's Deister und Weserzeitung contends that the Western Contact Group's plans for Kosovo don't meet the Kosovar Albanians' goals. The newspaper says: "Moderate Kosovar Albanians assent to negotiations, and that is a good thing. For if they totally refused participation, it would only strengthen the false suspicion, which the politicians in the West are all too ready to fuel, that ... 'both sides' are unwilling to broker a peace.

"Nevertheless, what the Contact Group presents as a reasonable compromise is far from the minimal aims of the Kosovar Albanians. These have a right to self-determination, at least to a genuine autonomy. The Contact Group is only offering a self-government without any far-reaching authority vis a vis Belgrade. And this self-government, too, cannot be implemented without international defense troops in Kosovo �- such that can force adherence to the agreements."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Contact Group's intended offer to the warring sides is an "eat or die" proposition

Peter Muench comments in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the West's position has hardened on Kosovo. He quotes one diplomat as calling the Contact Group's intended offer to the warring sides an "eat or die" proposition. Muench writes: "The non-negotiable principles include a cease fire and the building of democratic structures. There will be elections under the supervision of the OSCE. There will be an amnesty for political prisoners, excluding war criminals. The future status of Kosovo is consciously defined in general terms as having 'a high degree of self-government.'"

The writer says: "Preparations in the West indicate that a peacekeeping force will be analogous to the NATO land forces in Bosnia to assure the peace plan. These are points which will be under discussion at Rambouillet Castle (near Paris), provided that both conflicting parties actually send their emissaries."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Part of a threat is the decision to act

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung notes in an editorial that the time for force is drawing near, and is an essential part of the West's strategy for ultimate peace. The newspaper says: "Many of the Greens in the [German government's ruling] coalition would rather not speak about employing force. The chief of the faction, Rezzo Schlauch, underlines the hope that a solution will be found through negotiations. One can only endorse this. On the other hand, the concept of the Contact Group includes a threat, and a part of a threat is the decision to act. If, in the worst case, Russia -� not to mention China -� refuses to vote in favor in the Security Council, NATO will have to strike without this mandate. It would act and the Greens in the government would have to sanction the act."

WASHINGTON POST: The final, essential number in Kosovo is "zero"

An editorial in The Washington Post discusses what it calls the Kosovo "Numbers Game," that is, a kind of gamblers' lottery. The Post says: "The United States and its European allies are debating their respective commitments of troops to a Kosovo peacekeeping force. It's an interesting question, entailing issues of U.S. leadership and European responsibility. But the most important number is a different one: how many troops and police, if any, Serbia will be permitted to retain in Kosovo. If it is high, a NATO force will have to be very large indeed to succeed. If NATO insists that all Serbian forces withdraw, then every NATO ally's contribution can be smaller."

The editorial says: "NATO finally has decreed that [Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's] massacres and other war crimes have to stop. The alliance understands that continued civil war threatens stability throughout the Balkans, not to mention NATO's credibility. So the alliance is insisting that ethnic Albanians and Mr. Milosevic's government negotiate a quick agreement on Kosovo autonomy. NATO peacekeepers would enforce the agreement for three years or so, after which final decisions on Kosovo's status -- whether independence or something less -- would be taken."

The Post concludes that the final, essential number in Kosovo is "zero" -- no Serbian troops or police in Kosovo.