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Western Press Review: Kosovo After Racak

Prague, 19 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Four days after an alleged Serb massacre of ethnic Albanian villagers in Kosovo, Western press commentators today are largely concerned with the deteriorating situation in the southern Serbian province. While condemning Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's armed repression of ethnic Albanian Kosovars, several analysts also underline the inadequacies of Western policy toward the conflict.

IRISH TIMES: The immediate priority must be to insist that international legal process applies

The Irish Times today says that last Friday's "massacre at the [ethnic Albanian] village of Racak has thrust the Kosovo conflict back into world attention, in a gruesome reminder that its basic elements remain unresolved despite the peace agreement negotiated last October."

The paper's editorial continues: The facts of what happened on Friday [Jan. 15] must be rapidly and authoritatively established and the culprits speedily brought to trial. Such demands dovetail with what has to be done politically to address the conflict between Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia and his Kosovar opponents, who increasingly support independence. Diplomacy has been deadlocked by the failure to reconcile these basic disagreements."

The Irish Times also says: "The immediate priority must be to insist that international legal process applies and to back that with credible sanctions. The international consensus, including that at the [United Nations] Security Council, can be held together on such a basis. Milosevic has justified his refusal to remove troops and special forces by the continued presence of Kosovar guerrillas committed to a struggle for independence."

The paper adds: "Even if NATO air strikes were to be sanctioned in a rapidly escalating crisis, it is obvious that the targets involved bear little operational relation to the actual conflict on the ground. There is little stomach internationally to provide the much bigger armed force that would effectively contain the conflict and steer it toward the kind of settlement envisaged in last October's agreement."

FINANCIAL TIMES: This time the West will have to be tougher on Belgrade

Britain's Financial Times believes "the significance of the massacre of 45 Kosovar civilians extends well beyond the immediate horror at one of the worst atrocities of that bloody conflict. The prospect of [Milosevic's] Serb leadership...and the ethnic Albanian Kosovars ever reaching a political settlement has been severely diminished."

The editorial goes on: "If NATO now intervenes, the likelihood is that it will do so not as an even-handed mediator, but in defense of independence for Kosovo --a cause that, for geo-political reasons, the Alliance has so far refused to support.... New horror is bringing new diplomatic momentum to NATO. But this time the West will have to be tougher on Belgrade.... Belgrade must realize at last that the only hope for Kosovo within the overall Yugoslav federation is by separating it from Serbia, and giving it republic status."

The FT concludes: "The alternative to a political settlement is a worse war than we have so far seen. The West will not be able to walk away.... Nothing could be more de-stabilizing than future Racaks."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: It is time for the West to come up with a new policy

For the Wall Street Journal Europe today, the Racak massacre shows that "Western policy toward Kosovo has proven to be an unmitigated failure. Time and again," the paper write, "Milosevic has been less than daunted by NATO's threats. The [U.S.-brokered October] 'cease-fire' offered little more than a lull in the fighting during which Serb troops and the Kosovo Liberation Army, the ethnic Albanian guerrilla force, were able to stock up for future battles."

"Clearly," the WSJ goes on, "it is time for the West to come up with a new policy.... Politicians in the West say they are loath to support independence [for Kosovo] because it would entail redrawing the borders of what they still deem to be a sovereign state. But Milosevic's behavior leaves him without a just claim to sovereignty."

The editorial says further: "If the most popular argument against backing Kosovar independence is that it would somehow send Yugoslavia down a slippery slope to more warfare, then the reasonable response is that Kosovo has already tumbled violently down that slope.... Backing independence is the only way to send a clear and credible message to Milosevic that the slaughter won't be tolerated. That, of course, would require a level of leadership in the West that has so far been absent."

WASHINGTON POST: The October agreement was far from ideal

In an editorial yesterday, the Washington Post was also critical of Western --and, particularly, U.S. policy-- toward Kosovo. The paper wrote: "For nearly a year Slobodan Milosevic has been waging war against the people of Kosovo. Throughout that time the Clinton Administration has been insisting it would not stand for the sort of atrocities for which Mr. Milosevic ultimately was responsible in Bosnia earlier in this decade. The brutal massacre late last week by Serb forces of 45 or more civilians shows just how much the Administration's promises have been worth."

The paper's editorial went on: "The Clinton Administration allowed the Serbs' ethnic cleansing to proceed unimpeded throughout the spring and summer. Then, in October, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke negotiated a cease-fire. But because the U.S. and its NATO allies still were not really prepared to confront and stop Mr. Milosevic, they settled for an agreement that delivered far less than Administration officials claimed. It did not force Mr. Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo."

The WP summed up: "Now the massacre in the village of Racak shows how far from ideal the October agreement really was. Children and old people were killed.... [But] the October least provided access and quick reporting about this atrocity. Now we will see whether that information translates into action. The people of Kosovo cannot stand much more 'grave concern' or unquestionable 'resolve' from the U.S. and its allies."

LE MONDE: There are likely to be more Racaks

"There will be other Racaks," says France's daily Le Monde in an editorial today. The paper writes: "We can't pretend to be either surprised or astonished. We knew what was coming. We knew that those [television] images of the horror of Racak were almost inevitable.... Massacres --whether through bombardment of either a market-place or a cafe terrace, or through the summary execution of thousands of hostages as in Srebenica [in Bosnia in 1995]-- are a part of the strategy of a Greater Serbia. Integrally and deliberately."

The editorial continues: "For fear of inflaming the entire region, Western governments have refused to support independence for Kosovo. Instead, they have sought to persuade Belgrade and [ethnic Albanian] Kosovars to negotiate a large degree of autonomy for the province. But in support of this policy, which now seems basically faulty, they have not given themselves the means to be taken seriously by Milosevic."

Le Monde concludes: "Once again, after Racak, [the West] has stepped up its warnings and threats, sending NATO generals to Belgrade --when what was needed was a show of force on the ground. As long as the West continues to support this flawed policy, which equates executioners with their victims, there are likely to be more Racaks." Three German newspapers also comment briefly on Kosovo. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung draws this lesson from the Racak massacre: "Military plans without the backing of political concepts are useless. The West can only re-establish its influence over the [ethnic] Albanians by guaranteeing that their autonomy will be protected."

The paper's editorial concludes: "Western countries must prepare themselves for a long-term commitment in Kosovo. That entails ground troops [to the province], as was done [in Bosnia] under the Dayton peace accords. Only in that fashion can the West pose a credible threat to the Serbs and prevent another massacre."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The most the West can expect is a new cease-fire

The Frankfurter Rundschau thinks that Slobodan Milosevic "understands the language of military generals better than that of eloquent diplomats. He had better," warns the paper, "take seriously NATO's preparations for air strikes."

But, the paper adds, "the most the West can expect from its threats and even from air strikes --which are covered by a UN mandate -- is a new cease fire. Actually," it continues, "that's a lot when one thinks about the murdered and oppressed victims. Yet it's very little when it comes to the goal of creating enthusiasm among Serbs and Kosovars for a solution to the conflict that neither side really wants."

BREMER NACHRICHTEN: The entire region calls for a new political order

For the Bremer Nachrichten, "there is no political solution to the conflict." The paper writes: "The misery in the entire region calls for a new political order, for historical clarity. But the West's interest seems to be dwindling. Perhaps it will increase only when hundreds of thousands of Kosovo Albanians camp out along our borders."