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Yugoslavia: Report Says No Peace In Kosovo Without Peace In The Region

London, 30 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A recent report says further unrest in Kosovo could undermine the moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and lead to the spread of violence beyond Serbia's borders, particularly into neighboring Macedonia.

The warning is sounded by Strategic Survey, 1997/98, published by the respected International Institute for Strategic Studies.

In recent weeks scores of ethnic Albanians have been killed in Kosovo province - where ethnic Albanians outnumber Serbs by 9 to 1 - in a crackdown by the Serbian police and the Yugoslav army.

The report says ethnic Albanians, angered by years of Serb discrimination, are losing patience with the passive non-confrontational tactics of Rugova and his Democratic League of Kosovo and paying more heed to the more radical Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). It says support for the UCK among ethnic Albanians in the south Serbian province has increased following a "full-scale military assault" by Serbian forces in the Drenica region on March 5.

Strategic Survey says there is concern in Macedonia that it might be very difficult to preserve the peace there "given the far from stable situation of its ethnic Albanian minority", particularly if UN peacekeeping troops are pulled out later this year.

The report, which focuses on prospects for a lasting settlement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, says there cannot be a stable peace in Bosnia so long as its neighbors are not also stable and at peace.

But the report says U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who are vocal in support of the NATO stabilization effort, have boosted hopes of lasting peace by taking a much tougher line than their predecessors with Serbian, Croatian and Muslim leaders. They are committed to "re-integrating and democratizing Bosnia rather than accepting de facto partition."

But the repatriation of populations -- an essential part of a settlement -- is proceeding painfully slowly. Refugees do not want to return to areas still run by indicted war criminals and they are put off because there is no public order or freedom of movement.

Other problems include bad housing, poor job prospects and resistance in many communities to the return of minority groups. Of the 2.3 million people displaced by the war, by the end of 1997 only 381,000 had returned home. These were mostly people returning to areas where they belonged to the ethnic majority.

Only 22,500 (13,800 Croats, 5,600 Serbs, and 2,900 Muslims) returned to areas in which the army of their ethnic group did not control the territory. Most returned to the Muslim-Croat Federation.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees launched an ambitious "open cities" project in March last year, promising economic help not just to individual returnees, but to municipalities prepared to welcome refugees and displaced persons regardless of ethnicity.

Four cities in the Muslim-Croat Federation were designated open cities in 1997: Konjic, Busovaca, Vogocsa and Bihac. A further 30 municipalities applied for the status, some in Republika Srpska.

The report says, for open cities to work, the UNHCR needs NATO to guarantee freedom of movement and provide assurance that returnees can remain. But NATO commanders are still reluctant to take on non-military tasks that might endanger their personnel. There was little NATO help with clearing mines (except where troops were vulnerable); with law enforcement and protection of returning refugees; and, until recently, with the arrest of war criminals.

But NATO troops have helped with the repair of bridges, roads and railways, and by opening up airports and in removing excess weaponry from police stations and dismantling illegal roadblocks.

Other urgent requirements are to reform property laws and create an independent and competent judiciary. Most judges are said to be dependent on and responsive to local party bosses, This has made it difficult to settle many disputes about ownership.

Most asylum countries are continuing to cooperate in providing shelter until conditions improve sufficiently for it to be safe for minorities to return. But in Germany (which took in some 350,000 Bosnian refugees, more than half as many refugees as the rest of the world combined), many local authorities ran out of patience, or funds, and began "premature" deportations in early 1997.

The report says returnees will have more incentive to go home when the economy improves and there is a prospect of jobs. In a bid to improve conditions, donors at three pledging conferences, co-hosted by the EU Commission and World Bank, committed over $3 billion for reconstruction and peace implementation, of which more than half was disbursed.

The EU was the main donor, followed by the U.S. and Japan. Within the EU, Netherlands was the most generous, followed by Italy. Norway was the most generous among the non-EU Europeans.

But donor countries want better accountability, as some funds are misused. One report said too much money was disbursed to mafias as protection money and into corrupt or criminal activities.

The large bulk of the funds (97 percent) was disbursed to the Muslim-Croat Federation due to its greater effort to comply with the Dayton, Ohio, peace accords than the Republika Srpska. Figures show that the federation economy grew by 68 percent in 1996, and 40 percent in 1997, to reach just under 50 percent of its prewar level. Future aid disbursements are planned at 70 percent for the federation and 30 percent to Republika Srpska.

Summing up the prospects for a lasting peace in Bosnia, the report says there is "Room for cautious optimism."