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Western Press Review: Commentators Warn Of Dangers Of Kosovo

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba/Esther Pan

Prague, 9 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- With tensions mounting in Serbia's southern Kosovo province, the six-nation Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia is due to meet urgently in London today to seek a resolution of the conflict between Belgrade and the regions's ethnic Albanian majority. Western press opinion and commentary today and over the weekend focused strongly on the crisis in Kosovo, with most expressing apprehension about a possible spread of the conflict to other parts of the Balkans.

NEW YORK TIMES: Kosovo's conflict could spread

In an editorial yesterday, the New York Times said that "the violence in Kosovo could ignite the Balkans beyond the former Yugoslavia." The paper wrote: "When top diplomats from the United States and five European nations (Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia) meet (today), they should affirm Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's strong warning on Saturday to the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic, to stop the killings of Kosovo's Albanians....If violence increases, Kosovo's conflict could spread to neighboring Macedonia, which has an Albanian minority. Since many of Macedonia's neighbors have territorial claims on it, chaos in Macedonia could encourage Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey to join a war."

The editorial continued: "Leaders in Washington and Europe have been talking about the danger for years. But even the Clinton administration, which has contributed the most to maintain the peace, is not doing enough. (And) if Russia is not willing to stop its sales of oil and arms, it should at least demand cash instead of barter from Serbia. The New York Times concluded: "Milosevic keeps Serbian and possibly personal bank accounts abroad, many reportedly in Cyprus. These should be frozen. To reinforce the message, the top diplomats of all NATO nations should make clear that Milosevic's defiance in Kosovo is being closely watched and is of great concern to them."

WASHINGTON POST: The diplomatic fire brigade must help the parties keep the violence from spinning out of control

The Washington Post wrote yesterday that "the long-feared 'second Bosnia' may be igniting in Kosovo, a province of Serbia with a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority." In an editorial, the paper said: "Kosovans have been demanding independence from a Belgrade government that has ruled repressively and resisted restoring even the lesser autonomy Belgrade revoked in 1989. Now a collision of the 'Greater Serbia' idea identified with Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and a similarly nationalistic 'Greater Albania' could draw in principals and region alike." The paper continued: "The diplomatic fire brigade (meeting today in London) must help the parties keep the violence from spinning out of control. Serbia cannot expect escape from its isolation, nor the Albanians from their neglect, if others see either as responsible for an escalating war. Any political changes must be made at a table. The (present) sanctions against Serbia can't be made much tougher. But NATO military options need to be reviewed. Bill Clinton has reiterated George Bush's unspecific but resonant 1992 'Christmas warning' against Serbian aggression --a warning Mr. Milosevic cannot possibly find advantage in testing."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE: U.S. may have inadvertently given Milosevic a pretext to order a crackdown

On Saturday, the Chicago Tribune carried a news analysis from Washington by David Cloud that also warned of the consequences of an expanded conflict. Cloud wrote: "Continued violence in Kosovo would undercut the U.S. claim to be forging a durable Balkan peace and the instability could spill over into neighboring Albania and Macedonia, which has a sizable population of ethnic Albanians as well." The analysis continued: "The most worrisome scenario to U.S. officials is that continued fighting will produce a stream of refugees going out of Kosovo as weapons from Albania are smuggled in to arm the guerrilla movement fighting the Serb forces....Ironically, the U.S. may have inadvertently given Milosevic a pretext to order a crackdown when (U.S. special envoy Robert Gelbard) in late February branded the Kosovo Liberation Army, a guerrilla organization blamed for attacks against Serb police, 'without any question a terrorist group.'"

FINANCIAL TIMES: No-one, its seems, has learnt anything in the Balkans since 1991

Britain's Financial Times today writes that the situation in Kosovo is "deja vu (that is, already seen) all over again." In its editorial, the paper writes: "European envoys urge restraint, the U.S. sends mixed signals, and Slobodan Milosevic ploughs on with his chosen strategy, using force against non-Serb civilians and playing on Serb nationalist passions to keep himself in power. No-one, its seems, has learnt anything in the Balkans since 1991." The editorial continues: "Only this time the results could be even worse. Ethnic war between Slavs and Albanians will be difficult to confine to Kosovo. It could spread to Macedonia and Montenegro, putting intense pressure on Albania to succor its kith and kin. Greece, Bulgaria and even Turkey could soon be sucked into the maelstrom." To prevent the conflict from spreading, the Financial Times says that "the violence has to be stopped in Kosovo itself. That requires a willingness to use the sort of NATO air force which, when deployed in Bosnia, helped bring Mr. Milosevic to the Dayton (Bosnia peace) talks....At the same time," the paper concludes, "Albanians throughout the region must accept that autonomy (for Kosovo) is all that the international community will support. Changing territorial boundaries in this part of the world is too dangerous."

FIGARO: There are no guarantees that diplomats can prevent a repetition of the scenario

France's daily Figaro also feels that "the pictures of oppressive force from Kosovo provoke a feeling of deja vu." In its editorial, the paper writes: "The international diplomats are flying from Rome to Belgrade and from Paris to London. But there are no guarantees that they can prevent a repetition of the scenario that we know all too well: divisions, lack of agreement, splintering and impotence." The editorial warns: "The international consequences of an ethnic explosion in Kosovo would be very alarming. On the map, the Yugoslav Albanians share a border with their brothers in Albania and Macedonia, two countries which are themselves unstable. Unlike Bosnia, Kosovo is not landlocked. It lies on a dividing line."

LA STAMPA: Once again the choice is between the diplomatic way and the threat of force

Italy's La Stampa calls Kosovo "a powder keg." The Rome paper writes: "For the Serbs, (Kosovo) is the historic cradle of the Serbian state; for the Albanians, it is truly their home... .Once again the choice is between the diplomatic way and the threat of force. Whatever happens, the Kosovo chapter is now open. In hindsight, we remember Bosnia. Let's hope this will be less gruesome."

AKTUELT: It seems like the beginning of a new Balkan crisis

Denmark's daily Aktuelt also sees history repeating itself in Kosovo. It writes: "Once again, this time in Kosovo, warning voices have cried, 'the wolf is coming!' Yet the international community was truly shocked, surprised and paralyzed to see the wolf itself really appear. The region is exploding in armed internal conflict. It seems like the beginning of a new Balkan crisis."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Klaus Kinkel and Manfred Kanther seem to live in two different worlds

In the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today, commentator Peter Muench writes about what he calls "schizophrenic Kosovo politics" in Germany, comparing Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel's weekend remarks (in an interview with the Welt am Samstag) about Kosovo to those made earlier by Bavaria's Minister of Interior Manfred Kanther. He says the two "politicians seem to live in two different worlds. At any rate, they sometimes speak two different languages." He explains: "In the Kinkel language of German foreign policy, Kosovo today constitutes an explosive crisis region --the next war scene in the Balkans, where two million Albanians are being oppressed by the Serbian central power. On the other hand, in the Kanther domestic-policy language...Kosovo is a normal province in a normal state which is being treated according to normal diplomatic relations." Muench continues: "Kosovo in the Kinkel cosmos is positioned in the center of the UN Security Council's crisis diplomacy and the (six-power) Contact Group. But (for) Kanther, the aim is to take action to deport refugees who claimed in Germany that they are facing threats."