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Yugoslavia: Potential For Conflict Remains Despite Balkan Summit

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The Sarajevo summit inaugurating the Balkan Stability Pact has passed off successfully, but despite the high hopes it brings for the future, our correspondent in Sarajevo, Breffni O'Rourke, looks at the potential for continuing troubles.

Sarajevo, 1 August 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The absence of war is not peace. In the Balkans, no artillery is thundering, no bombs are falling, but the seeds of further conflicts remain, as always in this turbulent region.

At the Balkans Reconstruction Summit in Sarajevo on Friday (July 30), the NATO powers, the G-7 leading industrial democracies, plus Russia and others, pledged to assist the struggling South East European region. The pledge encompasses support for economic development, for democratization and for security.

As such, the summit represents a key moment for the region, one in which the international community made clear its determination to help the Balkans join the European mainstream. But not all problems are thereby solved.

Charles Dick is the director of Britain's Conflict Studies Research Center. He sees Serbia, the defeated power in the Kosovo conflict, as being at the heart of the continuing threats to stability.

Serbia -- shunned by the international community -- lies in a state of near ruin under the regime of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Tension there appears likely to rise further as living standards plummet and the opposition continues its campaign to oust Milosevic.

Dick sees the possibility of a Serb-Serb conflict developing, in effect a civil war. And even if the political struggle there remains free of violence, he says it's far from clear what will emerge:

"We all want to see Milosevic overthrown, and there is a hope that when he departs, Serbia will have an enlightened government which will bring it into line with pro-Western, democratic, pro-market economic thinking. But I don't see any guarantees that the overthrow of Milosevic will do that."

Dick describes the liberal parties in Serbia as being small minority parties of intellectuals and the ruined middle classes, which are divided among themselves. The politicians most likely to take over from Milosevic, therefore, will not necessarily be the ones that the international community would like that country to have. In addition:

"Quite apart from the threat of a possible civil war in Serbia, you have got a very real threat posed by the Milosevic regime to Montenegro, basically to force Montenegro into being part of a unitary state, as opposed to a federal state." Little Montenegro -- the junior partner to Serbia in the Yugoslav Federation -- is desperate to loosen Belgrade's grip, but that isn't how big brother sees the future. Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic attended the Sarajevo summit, a politically risky journey for him. He was a welcome guest in Sarajevo, and the summit's final declaration expressed the will to make Montenegro an early beneficiary of the reconstruction process, while respecting Yugoslav sovereignty.

Exactly how that is to be achieved against the wishes of Belgrade was not spelled out.

Turning to Kosovo, the British analyst sees the possibility of an altogether new dimension of trouble, this time between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the international peace force:

"In the long run, we are very likely to have a confrontation and quite probably a conflict between the KLA and KFOR because the agreement which ended the war is very far from having settled the ambitions of the KLA."

Dick's comments to RFE/RL came ahead of reports which said the Kosovo Liberation Army has largely managed to establish political control over Kosovo, despite the fact that the United Nations Mission there is the legally constituted authority in that territory. The KLA leadership is said to be appointing councils, seizing businesses and even levying taxes.

This would appear to mean the KLA intends to operate as a rival structure to the UN mission, thus creating the clear potential for trouble between the two. Looking further afield, Montenegro and Albania also offer potential trouble spots. Albania because of the general chaos and lawlessness that is enveloping the land, and Macedonia because of the fragility of the peace between the Macedonian majority and the ethnic Albanian minority.