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Balkan Report: May 13, 1998

13 May 1998, Volume 2, Number 19

Holbrooke Back to the Balkans. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright sent Richard Holbrooke, the architect of the Dayton agreement, back to the former Yugoslavia this past weekend. This time it was Kosova, not Bosnia, that was on his agenda. Accompanied by Robert Gelbard, the current special envoy to the region, Holbrooke first called on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who told Holbrooke in no uncertain terms that he does not want any foreign mediation in the conflict.

After Belgrade, Holbrooke called on shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova and other Kosovar leaders in Prishtina, where the usually assertive diplomat said he had come "to listen and learn." He also stated that he sees no solution to the Kosova question in sight. After meeting Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano in Tirana, Holbrooke concluded that all that the protagonists can agree on is that the situation in Kosova is extremely dangerous.

Holbrooke presumably has lost none of his powers of persuasion that made him famous in 1995, but he does lack one thing that he had when he hammered the Dayton agreement together: the presence of a credible threat of force. In Bosnia, NATO launched militarily and politically effective air strikes, and its no-nonsense Rapid Reaction Force taught the lesson on the ground that aggression does not pay.

In the current crisis, Tirana and Prishtina have repeatedly called for a strong NATO presence along Serbia's frontiers with Kosova and perhaps with Macedonia in order to send the message to Milosevic that the international community will not tolerate armed repression. So far, NATO has offered only cautious measures within the framework of Partnership for Peace. And Holbrooke has returned from his rounds empty-handed.

Clinton Warns Croats, Muslims. President Clinton sent a letter of concern to Alija Izetbegovic, who is the Muslim representative on the joint presidency, and to Kresimir Zubak, who is the Croatian member of that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic Language Service reported on May 9. Clinton's message was that he is disturbed about the lack of progress in making the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation work. He urged local Croatian officials to distance themselves from separatist programs. Clinton told the Muslims that he hopes they will be fair in sharing powers with their federal partners.

Mass Burial in Mostar. But a reminder of the bitter 1993 war between the Muslims and Croats also presented itself that same day when a funeral was held for 186 Muslims who died in the conflict. The Muslims had been exhumed from mass graves in the Mostar and Capljina areas for a proper reburial. RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from the scene that some 10,000 persons took part, including Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic. Speaking one day after much of Europe marked the anniversary of V-E Day, Silajdzic said that the Mostar victims bear silent testimony to the fact that fascism has not yet been eradicated.

Is 'a Full Insurgency under Way'? The London "Guardian" reported on May 11 that Milosevic's handling of the Kosova problem has galvanized much of the ethnic Albanian population behind the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK). The once shadowy UCK can now count on 12,000 volunteers and has recently made some parts of the Drenica and Decan region "no-go areas" for the Serbian paramilitary police.

But part of the reason that the UCK has been able to consolidate its control is that the police have not brought the full force of their military superiority -- including tanks and air power -- to bear. Should they do so, many Kosovar and Albanian observers have predicted that the result would be a massacre.

In the meantime, support for the UCK grows. On May 9, the young people leading the daily peaceful protest march through Prishtina added the chant "We are the UCK" to their repertoire.

Quote of the Week. Speaking in Washington on May 6, Gelbard made it clear that Milosevic himself is to blame for the increase in popular backing for the UCK. "Everything we know about counter-insurgency theory -- doctrine, policies -- goes 180 degrees in the opposite direction from the way [that Belgrade has] been handling this... Whether it's militarily, politically, economically, socially: the government has played right into the hands" of the UCK. Belgrade has shown that it "is prepared to use the full force of the military against its own citizens."