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Western Press Review: Kosovo On The Brink

Prague, 23 March 1999 (RFE/RL) -- With the apparent failure late yesterday of an 11th-hour effort by U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke to persuade Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to an international peace plan on Kosovo, NATO airstrikes on Serbian air defenses, military installations and troops now seem imminent. Western commentators today explore the complexities of the situation in Kosovo, where Serbian forces have launched a new military offensive against ethnic Albanian strongholds, and assess the chances of air strikes on Serbia -- and the possible eventual dispatch of NATO ground troops -- bringing peace to the area.

GUARDIAN: The crisis is upon us and we must respond

The Guardian of London speaks of "the sad need for force [if] Kosovo is to be saved." The paper spells out in its editorial: "The only honorable course for Europe and America is to use military force to try to protect the people of Kosovo. ... America," it acknowledges, "is not ready for this, Europe is not ready for it. Western military forces are not ready for it. Yet the crisis is upon us and we must respond."

The paper asks: "If we do not bomb at all, or if there is a limited bombing campaign that still fails to change Milosevic's mind, what is likely to be Kosovo's future? The Serbs would certainly try to wipe out the Kosovo Liberation Army [UCK] completely. ... There would be dead and injured, both military and civilian. The leaders of the Kosovo Albanians would either be arrested or would flee. Many ordinary people would also take flight."

"If we [do] use military force," the Guardian goes on, "there is no guarantee that the people of Kosovo would be spared suffering. ... Even sending in ground troops, if the European countries took that hard decision, would not necessarily bring a swift end to the conflict. We do not have the overwhelming force on the ground to ensure that outcome. So," it notes, "there could conceivably be more suffering in the short run than if we choose not to act ... " Nevertheless, the paper concludes by reiterating its call for full Western military intervention in Kosovo.

FINANCIAL TIMES: NATO must worry about the Kosovars

The Financial Times' editorial says flatly: "The moment of truth between NATO and Slobodan Milosevic has come. ... Sadly, Mr. Milosevic's obstructionism at the negotiating table and his current offensive in Kosovo [now leaves] the Alliance no other option than to send in the bombers. But," the paper continues, "the military option is dire, not least because no one in NATO quite knows what to do if bombing fails to shake Mr. Milosevic's resolve. None of NATO's 19 allies is ready to invade Yugoslavia with ground troops."

The FT continues: "The enormity of NATO launching its first attack against a sovereign state is not to be underestimated. Unlike Iraq, Belgrade has not invaded another country. Nor is the situation akin to Bosnia, where the legitimate government invited outside intervention. Nor, finally, has the United Nations Security Council specifically authorized NATO to bomb."

The paper then says: "If NATO is going to invoke the fear of a humanitarian catastrophe [in Kosovo], that principle must guide all its actions. It must not worry about losing face, but about the Kosovars. It must choose targets to minimize civilian casualties, both Serb and [ethnic] Albanian. And the allies must fervently hope that bombing leads Mr. Milosevic to blink [that is, give in], or the army to stage a coup against him and not simply step up its offensive."

IRISH TIMES: It is uncertain what the use of force is intended to achieve

In Dublin today, under the title "Kosovo on the Brink," the Irish Times writes: "Yet another crisis in former Yugoslavia involving President Slobodan Milosevic, the U.S. mediator, Mr. Richard Holbrooke, thousands of refugees and the threat of NATO air attacks [--all this] is a brutal reminder that this war is a standing rebuke to Europe's peaceful order."

The paper goes on: "Mr. Milosevic knows very well too how to exploit differences among his adversaries. Despite the determined show of unity among Western members of the [six-nation] Contact Group [on the Former Yugoslavia], several of them are reluctant to endorse air attacks despite the extreme provocation involved. The Russians are against it in principle, for geopolitical reasons, partly because they would lack legal legitimacy available only from the UN Security Council."

The IT adds: "More important than that is the uncertainty about what the use of force is intended to achieve. ... It is necessary," it argues, "to go back to first principles in judging the Kosovo crisis. The Rambouillet accords offer an honorable compromise on autonomy and protection of civilians for a period of three years. The Serb army has poured in extra troops as if to provoke military retaliation. But there can be no certainty about the military outcome. [And] if force is used without express Security Council sanction, a dangerous precedent is set for other such interventions."

The editorial concludes gloomily: "The omens are not good, and war in that part of the world is a particularly risky venture."

KOELNER STADT-ANZEIGER: It is not easy to figure out Milosevic

Several German newspapers comment on the Kosovo crisis today. Their tone is predominantly skeptical of peace prospects in the province. The Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger fears Kosovo could turn into a European Vietnam, writing: "NATO remains easy to figure out for Milosevic, but unfortunately this is not the case the other way around --that is the real problem in the current crisis."

The paper continues: "The nicely phrased diplomatic documents that were discussed for a second time between the warring parties and members of the Contact Group countries have hardly changed the philosophy of the hard-line, power-hungry Milosevic. In Rambouillet, British Foreign Secretary [Robin] Cook talked about building a bridge for Serbia to include it in a modern Europe. Obviously, he is totally unaware that Milosevic is not the least interested in such a proposal."

TAGESSPIEGEL: The West needs to resort to Milosevic's own means

The Berlin Tagesspiegel is equally skeptical: "Through talk, the West will not be able to make Milosevic or the Serbian people act according to a Western pattern of conduct. Thus," the paper says, "it looks as if the West needs to resort to Milosevics own means to bring him back to Western reality."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Airstrikes might even strengthen Milosevic's position in Serbia

For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, "NATO itself is partly responsible for the current escalation of the Kosovo crisis because it waited too long to follow up on its threats [to Milosevic]. The worst punishment Milosevic can expect from NATO now is massive air strikes against his barracks, weapons factories and communication lines as well as a total blockade of his country. But NATO itself," the FAZ comments, "has doubts whether that is enough to make the autocrat Milosevic budge."

The paper goes on: "The fear that airstrikes might even strengthen Milosevic's position in Serbia is not unfounded. Therefore," writes the daily, "it must be made clear to Milosevic that any further crimes would not only have grave consequences for his power structure, but for him personally."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The two situations are very different...

The Los Angeles Times Syndicate distributes a commentary by David Owen, the former British Foreign Secretary who was also the European Union's negotiator on Bosnia for three years (1992 to 1995). Owen says that "a lukewarm NATO [decision] risks humiliation in Kosovo."

For the commentator, "there have already been too many threats against the Serbs that have not been carried out. Now ... President Milosevic is being told that NATO air attacks will be unleashed to force his country to accept the Rambouillet autonomy plan. ...[But] at present, NATO forces are insufficient to push the Serbs out of Kosovo. Public support in NATO countries for escalating the airstrikes to hit targets in Belgrade and other cities in Serbia may fade in a week or so. There is already concern about NATO using Italian air bases."

Owen adds: "Western political leaders seem to think the situation in Kosovo is like that in Bosnia in [the summer of 1995]. If NATO airstrikes worked then, it is assumed that they will work in 1999 in Kosovo. [Yet] in fact, the two situations are very different ... and there are sound reasons for believing that only the realistic threat of NATO troops moving into Kosovo, under the cover of air attacks, would force Mr. Milosevic to accept Rambouillet."