Prague, 19 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Knut Vollebaek, says Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has challenged the entire international community through the decision to expel the head of the OSCE mission in Kosovo, William Walker.
Vollebaek today said the action is totally unacceptable and may jeopardize the whole OSCE cease-fire monitoring process in Kosovo. Walker, an American diplomat, was yesterday given 48 hours to leave Yugoslavia.
The expulsion follows Walker's highly-publicized expression of anger and grief after viewing the bodies of at least 45 ethnic Albanians killed near the southern village of Racak on Friday. Walker laid the blame for what he called a massacre squarely at the door of Yugoslav forces in the area. Serbian leaders have made an impassioned denial of a massacre at Racak, speaking instead of combat deaths.
Compounding the international alarm over the expulsion order was yesterday's refusal by Belgrade to allow the entry into Kosovo of the chief prosecutor of the Hague international tribunal, Louise Arbour. Arbour wants to investigate the Racak killings herself.
And capping a day of defiance, Milosovic reportedly portrayed himself as too busy yesterday to meet two top NATO generals who had planned to fly to Belgrade to warn him of the consequences of violence by his troops in Kosovo. As one western official put it, the NATO generals were left sitting at the airfield.
After such a volley from Belgrade, the initiative today clearly lies with the international community. So what is the world doing? First of all, Walker does NOT intend to leave Kosovo. OSCE chief spokesperson Melissa Fleming told RFE/RL from Vienna today that there are no plans to obey the expulsion order. Fleming defended Walker's reaction to what he had seen at Racak:
"He spoke objectively, he spoke very emotionally, who would not do so after viewing that sight? I think he would be considered heartless if he had not done so. All the people accompanying him have backed up his statement. He has video and photographic evidence of what he saw. His conclusion that this was a crime against humanity and his absolute clarity that it was the responsibility of the Serbian forces is something that he has not gone back on."
Fleming noted that OSCE Chairman Vollebaek, who is Norway's Foreign Minister, has asked the Yugoslav government in the "strongest possible terms" to reverse the Walker expulsion order. So have other foreign ministers of the international contact group on Yugoslavia. Fleming said exchanges are now underway between ministers on possible consequences for Belgrade.
The OSCE, however, has no immediate intention of terminating its mission to verify the cease-fire between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian rebels, even if the cease-fire is now deeply threatened. OSCE spokesman Joergen Grunnet spoke today with RFE/RL from the Kosovo's provincial capital, Pristina:
"We have certainly seen breaches of the cease-fire, we have also succeeded in several cases to re-establish the cease-fire, and this morning our activity continues at the level it has been on now for several months, and the situation right now in Kosovo, according to our reports from the field, is quiet. We are sending out patrols to the area where there have been several [Serbian] police operations in the last few days, in the Racak/Stimlje area, we are assessing the extent of those police operations".
Shortly after Grunnet spoke with RFE/RL, western news agencies reported new clashes near Racak.
THE OSCE mission is of course composed of unarmed observers and has no military capability with which to affect developments in Kosovo. The military power lies with NATO, and the alliance's two top generals were to impress that fact on President Milosevic during their meeting. The generals, Supreme Commander in Europe Wesley Clark of the United States, and Chairman of the Military Committee Klaus Naumann of Germany, went to Belgrade today (Tuesday). Naumann's spokesman, Colonel Frank Salis, told RFE/RL they would deliver the Alliance's message of the possible consequences if Milosevic allows the situation in Kosovo to deteriorate:
"Then [the generals] will come back, and General Naumann will report to the NATO council on Wednesday morning (Jan. 20) and then the Council will discuss the matter, and then, well, let's see... "
Salis said there has been no heightened preparation so far of NATO forces for possible air strikes. He said that would have to be authorized by the NATO Council itself.
Another NATO official, who asked not to be named, told RFE/RL that in any case, there is sufficient alliance air power already available in the region, both land-based and at sea aboard aircraft carriers, should any military action be considered necessary.