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Western Press Review: Is Kosovo 'Another Bosnia?'

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Esther Pan

Prague, 6 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A good deal of West European press commentary today either explicitly or implicitly asks the question : "Is Kosovo another Bosnia?" Commentators fear that the escalating conflict between Serbian troops and the ethnic Albanian majority in Serbia's southern Kosovo province could become a full blown civil war. They are not optimistic about the chances of Western diplomatic efforts to put an end to the crisis.

TIMES: Force is again outpacing diplomacy in the Balkans

The Times of London says that "force is again outpacing diplomacy in the Balkans." In an editorial, the papers writes: "Tanks and helicopters were used in yesterday's assault by Serb forces on a dozen villages in the Drenica region of Kosovo. The Yugoslav Army, which has not hitherto been ordered into action in Kosovo, was reported to have joined in the operation. Such a decision could only be taken by Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader." The editorial continues: "If the army's involvement is confirmed, that will reveal even more about his intention to rely on force to suppress unrest in the province than his brusque dismissal of Robin Cook yesterday in Belgrade. Mr. Cook, who was acting in the name of the European Union, failed to win assent even to the modest request to establish an EU presence in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo. Mr. Milosevic, who has never showed the slightest flexibility on the Kosovo question, met his appeal for a political solution by repeating that this was an internal affair and that outsiders should mind their own business. Mr. Cook came away speaking of his 'very grave concern.'"

The London Times concludes: "The EU will have no influence unless it is seen to be acting together with the United States. Mr. Cook's decision to convene an emergency session of the six-nation Contact Group on former Yugoslavia is...wise; but there can be no certainty that Russia will play a constructive role. In Bosnia, Moscow has continued to work closely with the West despite its anger over NATO enlargement, but (Foreign Minister) Yevgeni Primakov's reluctance to commit himself to coming is a bleak augury."

GUARDIAN: Violence has blunted the diplomatic thrust

The British daily Guardian is also concerned with "Restraining Milosevic," the title of its editorial. The paper asks of the current violence: "Is this the start of the next round of ethnic warfare in former Yugoslavia?," writing: "If so, it is not for lack of warning. The suggestion that the next flash-point could come in Kosovo, where the Albanian people has suffered oppression for years, has been made repeatedly since the Dayton agreement brought peace of a sort to Bosnia. The only surprise is how long the patience of the majority population in Kosovo has endured."

The Guardian adds: "The violence in and around the capital of Pristina has blunted the diplomatic thrust of Robin Cook's mission to Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Belgrade on behalf of the European Union. (But) Mr. Cook was unable to deliver any bouquets to President Slobodan Milosevic.

Instead his meeting was absorbed by the Kosovo question and what was called a tough message that Britain 'will not stand idly by' --whatever that may mean. The U.S. has also joined in the international pressure with a similarly coded warning from its Bosnia envoy Robert Gelbard that Washington will use 'every appropriate tool' to deal with Serbia if Kosovo ignites." The paper concludes: "A real measure of autonomy remains the only solution (in Kosovo), but as more Albanians take to arms in anger and despair, it will not be available for much longer."

SCOTSMAN: Mr. Cook can talk tough but he must be very careful not to make a difficult situation worse

Today's Scotsman newspaper is also skeptical about the Cook's intervention on the part of the EU. It writes: "After the debacle of Bosnia, does anyone, least of all the Serbs, really take Mr. Cook seriously? He says they will be 'isolated.' On the scale of diplomatic sanctions, that is scarcely calculated to terrify. It is open to question, in any case, whether Europe should be involved in this particular dispute. Reports of massacres are appalling but could we have done anything to prevent them? Equally, though Mr. Milosevic is only too easy to despise, that does not mean his Albanian opponents are paragons." The paper sums up: "The Foreign Secretary condemns terrorism...and is right to do so. He makes the views of Europe known, as he must. But the likelihood is that Mr. Milosevic is using his quarrel with the Albanians as a way to blackmail the west into dropping economic sanctions. Mr. Cook can talk tough but he must be very careful not to make a difficult situation worse. Even to imply that there is some possibility that Europe will do more than apply diplomatic pressure is reckless indeed."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The calls for calm by Serbia's immediate neighbors reveal how much the wider Balkan region has changed in recent years

In a commentary for the Financial Times, Anthony Robinson expresses what he describes as "another way of looking" at events in Kosovo. He says that "the calls for calm and caution by Serbia's immediate neighbors --Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria-- reveal how much the wider Balkan region has changed in recent years." Robinson continues: "(Balkan) country after country has embarked on economic and political reforms inspired by the desire to join the mainstream of Europe. The process is incomplete (but) democratically elected governments of newly independent countries are now committed to policies aimed at securing the earliest possible membership of the European Union and NATO." He concludes: "This is what is helping to transform other Balkan trouble spots. While Mr. Milosevic remains in charge, however, repression is likely to continue in Kosovo while Serbia continues its descent toward bankruptcy and desperation."

LE MONDE: The Albanian question as a whole underlies the Kosovo problem

Across the English Channel, the French daily Le Monde yesterday offered this editorial comment on the tense situation in Kosovo: "The Albanian question as a whole underlies the Kosovo problem. The majority of the population of ethnic Albanians does not live in Albania; rather, it is dispersed among several Balkan countries. If the degradation suffered in Kosovo leads to demands for cohabitation in one state, then it will be difficult to avoid fiery passions from erupting in the region. Until now the various governments in Tirana were wise enough not to activate the question. There is no miracle solution. But there is still time to re-instate autonomy (for the province) and to substitute a mixed police force for the Serbian army."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE: Perhaps it is already too late

In its editorial today, Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is less optimistic, warning that "the situation in Kosovo could lead to a catastrophe far quicker than can be anticipated." The paper writes: "Serbian special units have begun to attack and raze Albanian villages -- ostensibly 'as retaliation against Albanian terrorism,' it is said. We hear from Pristina, the capital dominated by Serbia but where 90 percent of the population is Albanian, that the situation has reached a dramatic climax. To this must be added that in Albania itself 28 parties and groups under the leadership of (former President Sali) Berisha appeal to all Albanians in Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro to close their ranks in the face of Serb aggression. Only the Albanian government is still reticent." The paper concludes: "There is fear of a new Bosnia, because in addition to the ethnic conflict between Serbia and Albania there is also the threat of an indirect religious conflict. Most of the Albanians are Moslem. America has condemned Serb actions, the Europeans want to take council on Monday (in the six-country Contact Group) regarding ways to put a brake on Serb President Milosevic. He should return autonomy to Kosovo. But perhaps it is already too late."