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Balkan Report: March 11, 1998

11 March 1998, Volume 2, Number 10

Deja Vu. The news reports from Kosovo since the end of February have had a familiar ring to them. Special units of armed Serbs attack a village, firing indiscriminately at civilians of any age. The uniformed men loot and torch the homes after killing and driving out the occupants. Refugees flee for their lives, often spending days in hillside forests without food or shelter before feeling that it is safe to move on. In Geneva, the UNHCR's Chris Janowski warns that the Bosnian patterns of violence are being repeated.

Elsewhere, prominent members of the international community talk tough before television cameras after holding high-level discussions. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is singled out for criticism, but those who take their protests to him in person meet only with a sharp rebuff. There is talk in Western capitals of sanctions, but also of incentives to encourage Milosevic to recognize his mistake and return to the international community.

Meanwhile, the shootings and the torchings go on. Veton Surroi, who is probably the best-known Kosovar journalist, said at the outset of the attacks that the troops involved are para-military units of Milosevic's Praetorian Guard and that the men are veterans of the Croatian and Bosnian wars. On March 7, the Belgrade independent weekly "Vreme" added that the looting was as systematic and thorough as it had been in Bosnia. One Albanian told the weekly that the Serbs took everything from gold to electronic equipment to eggs.

Milos Vasic, "Vreme's" editor, noted other similarities between Bosnia and Kosovo. Vasic pointed out that foreign diplomats are again talking about sanctions against Belgrade, having forgotten that the Bosnian and Croatian wars taught Milosevic and his entourage how to profit personally from the sanctions. Instead, Vasic says, it is necessary to "jump on him, throw the book at him, bring all kinds of pressure to bear... possibly including military violence." There is little likelihood of that happening, however, because, as was the case during most of the Bosnian conflict, the international community cannot agree on an effective joint plan of action.

Concern from Abroad. This does not mean, however, that at least some of the diplomats do not realize what is going on. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in Rome on March 7 of Milosevic that "the one thing he truly understands is decisive and firm action on the part of the international community. We are not going to tolerate any return to the politics of divide and rule anywhere in the former Yugoslavia. We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem took a message from President Suleyman Demirel to Milosevic in Belgrade on March 8, in which Demirel urged that the situation in Kosovo not be allowed to degenerate into a conflict like the one in Bosnia. Milosevic replied that Kosovo is an internal affair of Serbia, which rejects all outside "interference."

Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo said in Paris on March 5 that the West should act decisively in exerting diplomatic pressure on Belgrade and not equivocate as it did in Bosnia during the first years of that conflict. The next day, the Croatian Foreign Ministry called on the international community to condemn all forms of violence in Kosovo and promote a peaceful, negotiated settlement, RFE/RL reported. Slovenia, which is a member of the UN Security Council, noted that the fighting poses "a threat to the entire region."

Bosnian Voices. But in Bosnia, some prominent figures were more blunt. On March 7, Ejup Ganic, the Muslim president of the mainly Muslim and Croat Federation, argued that "it is not hard to predict what will happen down there: It will be the same kind of slaughterhouse" as Bosnia... "This is very bad, this is destabilizing the entire Balkans and showing a sad picture - like there was not enough killing after the 200,000 dead in Bosnia-Herzegovina... It is a war down there."

For his part, Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim co-premier of Bosnia's joint government, called for "a military intervention [because] this killing of civilians cannot be stopped any other way." He stressed that armed action is necessary "before it's too late... It is obvious that the regime in Belgrade will not give up unless force is used against the whole project. This is the result of a continuous policy of hegemony pursued in the whole region of former Yugoslavia."