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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Pact Leaves Unanswered Questions

Prague, 22 October 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The Milosevic-Holbrooke pact on Kosovo leaves many questions unanswered and contains some provisions that seem likely to cause trouble in the future. There are at least three key problems.

The first is the method of verification. Some 2,000 unarmed civilians will be 2,000 potential hostages, assisted only by unarmed aircraft. Holbrooke said that he does not expect any trouble, and other officials note that some sort of "rapid reaction force" will be "over the horizon." Memories from 1995 of General Ratko Mladic's men rounding up UN peacekeepers in Bosnia as hostages are nonetheless still fresh.

The second issue is bringing war criminals to justice. The "Nuremberg principle" stresses that individuals must be tried if peace between peoples is to be restored. Milosevic has a miserable record of compliance with his Dayton obligations to cooperate with The Hague. And last week he made no new promises to Holbrooke in Belgrade.

Third and most important, the agreement is nebulous on the terms of a political settlement, which will have the Contact Group's latest plan only "as a basis." The details have been left for later, and Milosevic is a past master at dealing with details.

The Kosovar Albanians, moreover, have been largely left out of the negotiating process, and the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) seems to have been left out completely. The 1999 elections called for under the Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement, moreover, will be held according to rules set by the Serbs, which is completely unacceptable to the Albanians.

What seems to be on offer is local autonomy based on the community, or "opstina." This will please those local Serbs, Montenegrins, Turks or Roma, who are apprehensive about the return of the kind of Albanian-dominated, Pristina-based provincial autonomy that Kosovo had under the 1974 constitution. The decentralized approach will also ease Belgrade's fears about the emergence of a new Kosovar republic within the federation.

But even provincial autonomy is unacceptable to the Kosovar Albanians. The minimum they will settle for is an international protectorate that will lead to independence. The Albanians' wishes, however, do not seem to have played much of a role in formulating the agreement. And that may prove its Achilles' heel.