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Western Press Review: Kosovo -- Raids And Refugees

  • Joel Blocker
  • Anthony Georgieff

Prague, 7 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- As NATO air strikes on Yugoslavia begin their third week, western press commentary continues to focus largely on the question of whether or not the alliance is achieving its goals.

Editorials and analyses today also touch on Serbia's recent offer of an Orthodox Easter cease-fire and the ongoing plight of tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians coerced across Kosovo's borders by Serb forces.

DAILY TELEGRAPH: Milosevic's ploy is cunning but it should not fool anybody

Britain's Daily Telegraph warns of "Serbs Bearing Gifts". The paper writes in an editorial: "Slobodan Milosevic, having achieved a furious momentum in his drive to rid Kosovo of non-Serbs, is now seeking to halt the momentum building on the Allied side in an attempt to counter his brutality. His goal is to persuade NATO to halt the air strikes. ... The ploy," the paper says, "is cunning but it should not fool anybody who has had dealings with [Milosevic] over the past few years."

The DT also says that Milosevic's "overture to Ibrahim Rugova, who for long tried to achieve Kosovan independence by peaceful means, is a sad illustration of how a courageous, moderate leader has become a stooge, or perhaps a prisoner, of the Yugoslav government." In any case, the paper believes, "Mr. Rugova ... can no longer speak for his oppressed people."

GUARIAN: The offer illustrates Milosevic's lack of understanding of the outside world

The Guardian also believes that "it is right to treat [Milosevic's offer] with the deepest skepticism, [saying] it is designed to divide and confuse, and to lay the basis for hanging on to ethnically cleansed territory in Kosovo. Yet," the paper adds in its editorial, "the door should be kept open just a crack, in case Milosevic's tactics lead to a situation which could be used to help reverse his appalling strategy."

According to the paper, "the minimum conditions for negotiations have to included a complete cessation of violence, readiness for a withdrawal from Kosovo, and readiness to accept an outside force." It adds: "Some NATO ministers hope that the [cease-fire] offer shows that Milosevic is beginning to be aware of what he has taken on, and that this could be the first step in his retreat. More likely," the Guardian says, "it illustrates Milosevic's lack of understanding of the outside world."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The airlift of Kosovo refugees has got off to a sorry start

The Financial Times says today that "the airlift of Kosovo refugees from Macedonia has got off to a sorry start. Some refugees," it notes, "had to be strong-armed by local police on to aircraft bound for far-off destinations, such as Turkey and Norway, after they protested at being separated from their families. This miserable spectacle," the FT writes, "made the operation look more like another Serb-style deportation that the mercy mission that NATO countries intended it to be."

The editorial goes on: "[The spectacle] also heightened the impression of Western unpreparedness for the Kosovo refugee crisis, and opened a raging debate over whether refugees should be kept within the region or evacuated further afield. ... This," the paper says, "is a false debate. So numerous are the refugees [400,000 by a conservative United Nations estimate] that all means have to be used to care for them."

The paper also says that "tent cities [of refugees] along Kosovo's borders [must not] become permanent. This is all the more important because the exodus is largely the result of ethnic cleansing. The refugees must be allowed to return to their homes with their safety guaranteed by a military force, as NATO insists."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Ground troops may have to be sent earlier than previously thought

Also addressing the refugees' plight, the Danish daily Berlingske Tidende writes in an editorial: "Europe must accept the weakest of the [Kosovo Albanian] refugees and must also use massive aid to help [Kosovo's neighbors] Albania and Macedonia so that they do not to break down under the weight of the [refugee] influx. But," the paper adds, "[it's clear that] the West simply cannot help out two million refugees overnight."

The editorial continues: "Given Milosevic's bloodthirsty regime, the best thing to do to alleviate the plight of the refugees would be to invade Kosovo with an international land force and carve out an area in the province where the refugees would feel safe. Up to 60, 000 soldiers should be enough to do this," the paper says, "if they are supported by sophisticated military systems."

Berlingske Tidende acknowledges that "this is a very dangerous option, [but urges] it should start now, given the possibility of the situation in the region deteriorating by the hour." It adds: "With its air strikes in Yugoslavia, NATO has begun an engagement in the region [that will last] for years to come. Sending ground troops into Kosovo has always been [an option]. Now it looks as though they may have to be sent there earlier than previously thought."

INFORMATION: Air raids have made the situation worse

Another Danish daily, Information, writes today: "If you listen carefully to NATO's political leaders' rhetoric, you will understand the enormous change that has come over the alliance [in the past fortnight]. First, we had assurances that the operation in Yugoslavia would be a humanitarian bombing raid aimed at speedily pressing the Serb forces to stop their ethnic cleansing and return to the negotiating table." Now, says the paper, "after the humanitarian catastrophe reached monstrous dimensions, there is talk that 'Milosevic must pay the price!' "

The editorial continues: "Simultaneous with NATO's further assurances that all Albanian refugees will be returning home, the war's logic has shifted toward the dispatch [to Kosovo] of land troops -- something that NATO flatly ruled out just a couple of weeks ago." It concludes: "'After months of procrastination, NATO got itself involved in Kosovo with a series of air raids that in reality have made the situation [on the ground] worse. Now NATO's decision-makers are starting to realize that they did not have a clear vision of how to disengage themselves [from the deteriorating situation] if their original plan did not work."

GLOBE AND MAIL: Independence is now the only plausible objective

Canada's Globe and Mail daily today carries a commentary by Jeffrey Simpson that says "the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains as far from a coherent exit strategy from Kosovo as it is from the aims that initially propelled the Alliance there." The commentary goes on: "From rote rather than reason, NATO remains publicly wedded to the Rambouillet peace accords [that provided for] increased Kosovar autonomy within the Yugoslav federation, followed three years later by more lasting decisions."

Yet, Meyer argues, "no-one can seriously believe in Rambouillet any more. The Serbs never wanted the accord. The Albanian Kosovars will hardly consent to live with Serbs who have murdered and exiled them, plundered their land, burned their villages and engaged in activities not seen in Europe since the 1930s."

The commentary concludes: "The endgame is no longer Rambouillet but an independent Kosovo that either comprises the whole of the former Yugoslav province or part of it. Independence for Kosovo, of course, was explicitly rejected as an aim of Western diplomacy. But war has so polarized the situation that independence is [now] the only plausible objective..."

WASHINGTON POST: NATO should deploy the helicopters now

"Where Are the Apaches?" asks the Washington Post's editorial today, a reference to heavily armed U.S. helicopters now promised for combat in Kosovo. The paper writes: "Anyone watching television or reading a newspaper has at least some sense of the misery inside the muddy encampments of Kosovo deportees. The misery inside Kosovo itself remains largely hidden to the outside world; there are no foreign correspondents or aid workers, and the Kosovars themselves have been largely cut off."

"But," the paper continues, "enough stories are now emerging from those forcibly paint a horrifying picture. There are confirmed accounts of mass executions. Slobodan Milosevic's forces are shooting fathers in front of their families, stabbing children to death and burning families alive inside their homes. Serbian troops pull girls and women from cars and tractors to rape them while their relatives are forced to leave the country."

The editorial sums up: "[The promised 24] Apache helicopters...are designed for precisely this battle situation; they can fly low through enemy territory, pop up to fire a tank-killing missile and then retreat. NATO has in principle agreed to provide the Apaches --but on a schedule that will not put them into action for weeks. By then, Mr. Milosevic could well have completed his ethnic cleansing....This is wrong," the paper concludes. NATO "should deploy the helicopters now."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: There is only one alternative: a ground invasion

For analyst William Odom, a former high U.S. military and civilian official, in order "to bring this war to a successful conclusion [NATO must not just liberate] Kosovo from Milosevic's tyranny, but also [destroy] Milosevic personally along with his regime." Writing in the Wall Street Journal Europe today under the title "Take Belgrade," Odom says that "there is only one alternative: a ground invasion. [Without it,] far more blood will be on NATO's hands [and there will be far] greater doubts about the viability of NATO in the post-Cold War era than if NATO had not bombed in the first place."

The commentary continues: "A ground invasion must not be limited to Kosovo. In fact, the approach from Hungary --now a NATO ally-- into the Vojvodina region of Serbia and directly to Belgrade is open country that invites a high-speed armored ground attack....Supplying NATO forces on this front should be much easier than in Kosovo, at least in the beginning."

Odom adds: "Some officials spokesmen have estimated that 200,000 troops will be required for an invasion' others put the figure at 30,000 to 40,0000....I have become convinced that the lower figure is much closer to what is actually needed, especially after a long bombing campaign has degraded Serbian forces."

NEW YORK TIMES: The political imperative is as pressing as the moral and humanitarian one

In a commentary for the New York Times, Balkan specialist Misha Glenny warns that NATO "bombing may not prevent a wider Balkan war." He writes that the Alliance's plan "to airlift 100,000 refugees now streaming across the border of Kosovo into Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro is a much needed effort." But, he adds, it "will not come close to solving the problem, since the total number of refugees already exceeds 350,000, with thousands more on the way. And it will do little to ease the most pressing crisis in the Balkans: the political instability of Kosovo's neighbors, which threatens to turn a civil war into a regional disaster."

Glenny continues: "NATO did not cause the exodus of Albanians from Kosovo. Still, its actions have worsened the problem. All NATO members...are morally obligated to accept the great majority of refugees from Kosovo, because the small Balkan countries simply cannot cope with them."

He concludes: "The political imperative is as pressing as the moral and humanitarian one. If war breaks out between the Macedonian and Albanian communities in Macedonia, President Bill Clinton's main reason for approving the NATO campaign --to keep the conflict from spreading-- will have failed."