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Balkan Report: June 17, 1998

17 June 1998, Volume 2, Number 24

"No More Bosnias." Recent days have witnessed a flurry of NATO diplomatic and military activity, the upshot of which is that the Atlantic alliance seems to be getting serious about Kosova. Policy choices will be difficult and implications could be far ranging.

It took nearly three months from the start of the current Serbian crackdown in Kosova, but many Western leaders have publicly acknowledged that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is conducting a campaign of ethnic cleansing that bears all the hallmarks of his wars in Croatia and Bosnia. In addition, those same Western leaders increasingly appear ready to forego the endless rounds of Bosnia-style diplomatic contacts with Milosevic that produced only empty promises and that served to enhance his political legitimacy and prestige.

On June 8, European foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg concluded that Milosevic's actions in Kosova go well beyond the legitimate requirements of a state to protect itself against terrorism. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said that "modern Europe will not tolerate the full might of an army being used against civilian centers." He made his remarks at a time when Europe's television screens were filled with pictures of Kosovar refugees streaming into Albania and of the burned-out ruins of villages they left behind. Later that same week, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said in London that the deadline for Milosevic to end the violence, to let the refugees go home, and to negotiate seriously about Kosova's future is "now."

German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe spoke out in Bonn on June 8 against "symbolic measures" by the West in Kosova. He warned that sending troops to Albania to seal off its border with Kosova is not enough. "The problem must be solved where it is, namely in Kosova and in Belgrade. Serbia is a dictatorship. There is a war going on in Kosova, and we have had evidence since last week that the Serbian army is systematically destroying villages along the border with heavy T-55 tanks... and 155-millimeter artillery, and killing or driving out the population." He called on NATO to review all options "to end the murder in Kosova," the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported.

Meanwhile in Paris, President Jacques Chirac stated on June 13 that Serbia's behavior in Kosova is "unacceptable" and warned that the West might use force there. Chirac added that Serbia's policies are responsible for a new wave of refugees in the Balkans.

The remarks by Cook, Ruehe and Chirac foreshadowed a declaration by EU leaders at their summit in Cardiff on June 15. They demanded that Milosevic end attacks on civilians, withdraw his armed forces from Kosova, admit international monitors to the province, allow refugees to go home, and launch talks with Kosovar representatives. The text stated that "no state that uses brutal military repression against its own citizens can expect to find a place in modern Europe." The document added that "an immediate cessation of violence will be required as well from the Kosova Albanian side." But EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek said that the key issue is to end "a situation on the ground where innocent men, women and children are being slaughtered," regardless of whether the UN gives NATO a mandate to do so.

Crossing the Rubicon? Compared to the cap-in-hand and "balanced" approach that characterized Western diplomacy toward Belgrade during the early years of the Croatian and Bosnian conflicts, this is strong stuff. Already on June 12, NATO defense ministers agreed in Brussels to hold air exercises over Albania and Macedonia. On June 15, the same day as the EU summit declaration, some 84 aircraft from 13 NATO member states conducted operation "Determined Falcon" in the skies over those two Balkan countries that border Kosova.

A big question now surrounds the legal basis that NATO might use should it decide to intervene in a conflict on federal Yugoslav territory against the elected government in Belgrade. U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen feels that NATO would not need a UN mandate to act in the former Yugoslavia, which is part of the alliance's traditional sphere of operations. Other experts argue that the Dayton agreement provides NATO with a sufficient legal basis on which to intervene. One thing nonetheless seems certain: intervention could create a precedent that could have applications in places as diverse as Tibet, Rwanda, Chechnya, or East Timor.

Meanwhile, some Western leaders are adamant that the international community has indeed learned the lessons from its ill-starred Bosnia policies that proved unable to prevent ethnic cleansing and massacres. Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel, whose country is about to replace Britain in the EU chair, said in Cardiff on June 15 that the EU's latest declaration marks a policy that is "entirely new." He stressed that responses to Belgrade's actions must formulated quickly, that the international community must speak with one voice, and that its threats must be credible, i.e. backed by appropriate military force.

Anti-War Protests in Serbia. Over 100 parents of Yugoslav army conscripts from Kragujevac who have been sent to Kosova issued a statement in which they pledged to go to that province "to save our children," "Nasa Borba" reported on June 15. Some 400 Serbian policemen have refused duty in Kosova this year, the Italian daily "La Repubblica" wrote last week. In recent days, Serbian police in several cities arrested an unspecified number of persons who had distributed leaflets in support of the organization Anti-War Campaign, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on June 12.