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Balkan Report: January 13, 1999

13 January 1999, Volume 3, Number 2

Serbian Military In A No-Win Situation? The only way that Serbian forces can achieve a "victory" in Kosova is to wage a systematic campaign of genocide against the province's ethnic Albanian majority. Belgrade apparently has not realized this, however, and it is likely that the security forces may soon again launch the attack-and-destroy missions that characterized the crackdown in 1998. These were among the conclusions reached by a number of experts at a recent conference at Austria's Reichenau-an-der-Rax, the Vienna daily "Die Presse" reported on January 7.

One speaker summed up the Serbs' basic dilemma with a remark on insurgencies by NATO's Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark, who said that even a power with overwhelming military superiority cannot in the long run prevail over a hostile population. A fresh Serbian offensive, Major Walter Feichtinger added, might nonetheless undo some of the gains that the UCK has made since the shaky cease-fire came into effect in October. But, Colonel Gustav Gustenau argued, the Serbs would soon find themselves in the same situation that the Germans did when they used aggressive tactics against the partisans in World War II: namely that each brutal attack on the civilian population served only to generate more recruits for the insurgents.

Other factors also weigh in favor of the guerrillas. Their morale is higher than that of the Serbs, who also face formidable costs in maintaining an expensive conventional war machine. If the Kosovars face any serious problem, it is that of becoming too self-confident. While no outsider knows how strong they are for sure, Major Feichtinger concluded that the UCK can easily field 20,000 highly motivated men.

The Serbs, for their part, may feel they have acquired enough experience in counter-insurgency warfare to be ready for another round of fighting, argued Professor Stefan Troebst, who will soon take up a post at Leipzig University. In particular, they have learned some lessons in the course of the crackdown that their instructors can pass on to fresh recruits. Milosevic indicated in his New Year's speech, moreover, that he was interested in "the preservation of the sovereignty of Yugoslavia" and "the affirmation of the truth about our history and our present," which does not auger well for peace or reconciliation with the Kosovars, Troebst added.

In any event, Colonel Gustenau concluded, fighting is likely to begin again in earnest once the snows thaw.

More Problems For The Monitors. Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, whose country holds the OSCE rotating chair for 1999, said in Oslo on January 6 that only 600 instead of the planned 2,000 civilian monitors will be in place in Kosova before mid-January. Vollebaek added that 1,200 will be on the ground later in the month, and that the final total probably will not exceed 1,500. He said that the shortfall is due to the fact that there are not enough "qualified people" willing to take on such a risky assignment, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

"Die Presse" three days later noted some additional problems that the monitors face. First, Belgrade has a veto right over who may serve as a monitor because it grants -- or denies -- visas to applicants. Second, the force does not enjoy the full trust of the Kosovars because its local hires are mainly Serbs. And the Serbian authorities are widely suspected of doing what they did during the Bosnian conflict, namely including spies among the ranks of civilian local employees who work with the foreigners, "Die Presse" added.

Schwarz-Schilling's Warning. Germany's Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the international mediator in Bosnia, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" in December that developments in Kosova show that the international community "learned nothing from its experiences in Bosnia." He argued that firmness, decisiveness, and resolution pay in dealing with Balkan troublemakers and potentates, and that half-measures, dithering, and a lack of determination invite contempt. The veteran politician warned that the word gets around quickly in the Balkans. He stressed that if progress is not made soon in enforcing the Dayton agreement in the Republika Srpska, in particular, and in ending the Kosova crisis, then the troublemakers will sense a lack of resolve on the part of the international community. As a result, he added, the entire region could become destabilized.

Quotes of the Week. From a protest letter by Serbs in Kosova, following the killing of a security guard on Orthodox Christmas Eve: "Can you sleep peacefully while our children are being killed? Are we people or sitting ducks?"

Unnamed NATO official, quoted by Reuters on January 6 on the prospects of the UCK's Adem Demaci meeting with moderate Kosovars to work out a joint program: "So far it hasn't happened. It would be very encouraging if it did. There is not absolute pessimism."

London's "The Guardian" of January 5 on the increasingly pro-active role of the OSCE monitors in Kosova: "With a political settlement apparently far away, Western states are being pulled into a Bosnian-style operation where an almost colonial-style rule has been imposed on people who cannot live together. 'I call it adult supervision,' said one senior British observer with experience in Bosnia."

A Western diplomat, to Reuters on January 3: "You are dealing with machos on both sides."

An aide to French Defense Minister Alain Richard on the role of the extraction force, quoted in "Liberation" on January 4: "Some 80 percent of what we do is deterrence." To which an unnamed Western diplomat added: "With their three helicopters, they won't really frighten Milosevic."

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin, on January 11: "We cannot allow the process of settling the situation involving Kosovo by political means to be thwarted by the actions of terrorists and extremists who are destabilizing the situation in the area."

U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Chris Hill, to Reuters on December 31: "There's no question that Western intervention was much more timely in Macedonia than in any other place in the Balkans � The message was to keep your hands off Macedonia, and I think it has been a very successful message � I think there is broad recognition [in Macedonia] that if you can't get into NATO, the second best option is to get NATO into you, and that's what they did. To the extent Macedonia can nestle into broader security and economic structures, its future will be much brighter."

Pope John Paul II, in his annual address to the Vatican diplomatic corps, on January 11: "Everything must be done to help the people of Kosovo and the Serbs to meet around a table in order to defuse without delay the armed suspicion that paralyzes and kills." The pontiff added that the immediate beneficiaries of a solution in Kosova would be Albania and Macedonia, "since in the Balkans, all things are closely related."