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Western Press Review: Kosovo -- The Massacre At Gracko

Prague, 27 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Post-war developments in Kosovo continue to attract a major part of the attention of Western press commentators. Many of them focus today on the massacre last Friday of 14 Serbs in the Kosovo village of Gracko.

WASHINGTON POST: Gracko takes its grim place in the Yugoslav tragedy

The Washington Post, in an editorial today, says that "Gracko takes its grim place in the long line of scenes of Yugoslav tragedy." The paper writes further: "Men widely presumed to be ethnic Albanian Kosovars killed 14 Serbian farmers taking in hay in this Kosovo village south of Pristina. It was the worst atrocity committed in Kosovo since NATO peacekeepers arrived six weeks ago. The murders underscored the fragility of the international effort to settle down Kosovo and the difficulties of creating conditions to retain the panicked Serbian minority."

The editorial continues: "The 34,000 NATO peacekeepers (not counting 1,500 Russians) currently on the ground in Kosovo yearn to abandon a mission for which they are neither trained nor culturally prepared. But their intended civilian replacements -- an international police force of 3,100 people and a new Kosovo police service of 3,000 to 4,000 -- will necessarily be months in the forming and training."

The paper points out: "Armed British peacekeepers were within earshot of the guns of Gracko and could not halt the massacre or nab its perpetrators. ...The fact is that soldiers are not cops: They do not have the same necessarily close relationship to the local community. That makes "United Nations civilian administrator" Frenchman Bernard Kouchner a key international figure in Kosovo on a plane with General Wesley Clark, the American military commander. He has a U.N. mandate in effect to reinvent Kosovo from the ground up as a well-ordered democratic society. But as Bosnia's painfully slow and irregular evolution shows, this will take time."

NEW YORK TIMES: Basic security has not yet been established

The New York Times today describes "the ambush murder of 14 Serbian farmers in the Kosovo village of Gracko last week...a grim sign that six-and-a-half weeks after the first NATO soldiers began entering the province, basic security has not yet been established. With the international peacekeeping force now nearing full strength," the paper says, "NATO's first order of business must be creating a climate of civil peace."

"That," the paper argues in an editorial, "will not be easy. Serbia's stranglehold has ended, leaving the province without police or civil administration. The temporary U.N. trusteeship that will replace Serbian rule, including more than 3,000 armed international police, is just gearing up. For now that leaves NATO's 35,000 troops in charge of everything from controlling road traffic to protecting civilians."

The NYT concludes: "The international community cannot tolerate such violence [as occurred in Gracko]. The man in charge of the U.N. effort, Bernard Kouchner, arrived in Kosovo less than two weeks ago. He must now quickly build up the new international police force, establish emergency courts and help returning refugees rebuild before the onset of another winter, just three months away. ...In the long run, the U.N.'s role will be crucial. Its job is not just to provide temporary civil administration but also to help the people of Kosovo build the impartial and accountable governmental and law enforcement institutions they were denied under Serbian rule."

INFORMATION: The status of Kosovo as a Yugoslav province would became an absurdity

In Denmark, two major dailies carry editorials on the Balkans this morning. Information writes: "The recent massacre of 14 Serbs near the town of Gracko has provoked commentators to draw two conclusions. First, that the NATO-led KFOR is incapable of protecting the Serbian minority in Kosovo. And second, that the myth about the Balkans' dark laws of blood revenge is very much alive. The first conclusion is correct. The second is counter-productive and fatalistic."

The editorial goes on: "It is highly questionable whether the massacre in Gracko was provoked by a desire for vengeance. The Serbs were assassinated in what appears to be a well-planned operation. Gracko is a town with an ethnic minority of Serbs. And no similar incidents have been reported in nearby villages, also populated mainly by Serbs. Naturally, all reasonable suspicion is directed at the Kosovo Liberation Army [UCK] whose leader, Hashim Thaci, has vehemently denied any involvement in the killings. It must be emphasized, however, that the UCK has never been a well-ordered military organization with clear-cut command structures."

"All evidence," Information concludes, "suggests that the reason for the Gracko massacre was the same used by Serb paramilitaries to drive large masses of the [ethnic Albanian] population out of Kosovo to the point where the continuation of the status of Kosovo as a Yugoslav province would became an absurdity."

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Neither Turkey nor Greece will win anything by keeping up the tensions

A second Copenhagen paper, Berlingske Tidende, says that the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis "has led two other Balkan countries -- Greece and Turkey -- to the negotiating table. The conflict between the two NATO countries was exacerbated in the late 1990s, the daily writes, largely "as a result of the refusal by the European Union to accept Turkey as a member in the foreseeable future. None of the 15 EU states favors such a development, and their decision was made independently of the pressure [that one member-state,] Greece, exercised to prevent offering Ankara EU candidacy."

The paper continues: "Some Greek top politicians made themselves notorious by attempting to hide the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan before Turkish agents [caught up with and] kidnapped him in Kenya. Greece's Foreign Minister lost his job as a result."

But, Berlingske Tidende argues, "Turkey's even less understandable. With its [constant] threats over its borders with Greece, and with the harassment Turkish jets have caused over [Greek] parts of the Mediterranean, Ankara has not only intimidated an EU member-state, but has also raised tensions within NATO. ...Neither Turkey nor Greece," the paper sums up, "will win anything by keeping up the tensions."

Two Greek papers today also comment on Kosovo.

KATHIMERINI: The war in Kosovo is not over

In a commentary in the daily Kathimerini, Pantelis Boukalas says flatly that "the war [in Kosovo] is not over." He argues: "The war has not ended because those who acted as modern crusaders [that is, NATO] wanted to...rule unhindered and continue to pretend they are the defenders of human rights, while around them people get slaughtered, like the 14 Serbs that were executed in fields near Pristina by officially 'unknown' persons."

But, he continues, "of course, KFORs military leaders are absolutely certain about the 'unknown' persons ethnicity, though they tried to excuse them, claiming that 'the desire for revenge is understandable.' And as long as this 'understanding' remains maliciously unrestrained, the passion for revenge will be equally unrestrained, abundantly armed by the Atlantic Alliance, and politically legitimized ..."

The commentary concludes: "'The wretchedly planned and inadequately executed' bombing campaign is how [some] NATO military experts now describe the action....[But] how can the survivors -- Serbs, Albanians and Gypsies [Roma] -- be consoled by the European [Union Executive] Commissions kindness in disclosing its own experts shocking report, which confirms that the depleted uranium that was released by U.S. bombs is 'perhaps the most dangerous of the carcinogen and toxic substances' responsible for many sicknesses and genetic complications."

ELEFTHEROTYPIA: NATOs forces are not devoid of blame

Another Athens daily, Eleftherotypia, says that "the slaughter of the 14 Serb villagers...lays NATOs forces open to criticism of the humanitarian operation it undertook to pacify Kosovo, while allowing the UCK to act unhindered and use arms to carry out a reverse ethnic cleansing."

The editorial goes on: "NATO condemned [Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic for the persecution of Albanian Kosovars and the violation of their human rights by Serb forces. Doesnt NATO know who is slaughtering and murdering the Serbs and the Gypsies now? What have the peacekeeping forces done to protect the non-Albanian citizens of Kosovo? Since the beginning of the 'humanitarian operation,' 140,000 Serbs, Gypsies and other ethnic minorities have been forced to abandon their homes ..."

The paper sums up: "The drama in Kosovo continues. NATO was outspoken about the persecution of Albanian Kosovars by the Milosevic regime, and fed the news media with evidence to justify their destructive bombardments. On the other hand, not a word was spoken about the flight of the Serbs and the slaughter of civilians. There wasnt even any mention of the murderers, who are unknown. ... The slaughters are a crime and NATOs forces are not devoid of blame, because they tolerate them."

(Anthony Georgieff in Copenhagen and Alexis Papasotiriou in Athens also contributed to this report.)