The beginning of the end

News of a peace deal in Kosovo raises hopes and skepticism among Balkans watchers.

Published June 4, 1999 1:00PM (EDT)

News that Slobodan Milosevic's government approved a peace agreement
brokered by Russia and Western nations Thursday brought guarded optimism that an end may be in sight for the war in Yugoslavia.

The 11-week Kosovo crisis offered a grim portrait of the Balkans, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians flooded into neighboring Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro, while NATO bombs destroyed targets inside Serbia. Reports of mass killings, rape and torture were frequent, as were reports of accidental civilian bombing deaths (both Serbian and Albanian) caused by NATO's notoriously inaccurate aim and cartographically challenged intelligence information. The crisis seemed to crescendo with Milosevic's war-crimes indictment -- a dramatic move that may have accelerated peace negotiations.

The new peace deal, the second in a dark decade for the Balkans, calls for the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosovo, the return of the more than 855,000 Albanian refugees who have been forced from their homes and the deployment of a peacekeeping force of 50,000 into the region to enforce the pact.

War has engulfed the former Yugoslavia since the beginning of the decade, stemming from religious and ethnic hatreds that are hundreds of years old. In this round, both NATO and Serbia had tremendous success dismantling their enemies. And the peacekeeping force that enters Yugoslavia must not only rebuild Kosovo hamlets levelled by the Serbian army but also the Serbian infrastructure laid to waste by NATO bombers. And that includes the hospitals, bridges, embassy and power grids destroyed by NATO bombs. The peacekeeping force will also have to manage relations between two neighbors living inside the same fence who would rather have nothing to do with each other.

When Salon News asked Balkans experts to discuss Thursday's peace announcement, they understandably seemed a little weary.

Arianna Huffington is a commentator and syndicated columnist.

It's absurd to call this a victory or to talk about winners when an entire country is in ruins and Milosevic has achieved his ethnic cleansing. There are still enormous obstacles ahead before the refugees can be returned to their homes. Right now, there is nowhere for them to return to. The Kosovo region will have to be de-mined before anybody returns. A number of the innocent civilians we were there to protect, including children, ended up in the hospital to have their limbs amputated because of the cluster bombs we have been using, the anti-personnel bombs that leave hundreds of bomblets all over Kosovo. The first step is de-mining, then, of course, rebuilding.

The expectation that suddenly the KLA is going to dissolve after we've just been arming it is ridiculous. A lot of them want to take revenge on their attackers. You can foresee a circumstance where NATO is fighting on the same side as the Serbs against the KLA. Remember, only a few months ago, we were calling them drug-dealing terrorists. The other thing that really demonstrates the frivolity and recklessness of the [Clinton] adminstration's policy is the fact that the two most objectionable clauses in the Rambouillet agreement are nowhere in the principles the G-8 handed to Milosevic. One was the referendum after three years and the other was that NATO forces would be free to go anywhere in Yugoslavia without being interfered with. Why do we think he would not have accepted this agreement before we started the bombing?

Obviously, this will turn out to be another hollow victory because Milosevic will wind up surviving. Do you seriously think he will be arrested? Even the Serb leader in Bosnia and his general who were also indicted haven't been arrested. Eighty-nine were indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, basically only one is doing a sentence. Their record isn't exactly great. Milosevic should have been indicted long ago -- the evidence was there to do so in 1995 after Srebrenica. The particular timing of this was a public relations exercise at a time when the poll numbers were going down dramatically. This provided more moral justification for what was being done at a time when the world was questioning the moral imperative of continuing the bombing.

One reason we went in was to prevent the destabilizing of Europe. Now of course, that's exactly what happened -- Macedonia, Montenegro. The rise of anti-Americanism in Greece where I come from is phenomenally tragic. I've worked hard for many years to build respect for American values everywhere in Europe. Now the incredible rise of anti-Americanism is strengthening the anti-democracy hard-liners. America has always represented values like support for human rights, democracy and freedom. But when it behaves like a bully that shows no concern for the destruction of human life and causes collateral damage of schools and hospitals and the destruction of life in Serbia when we said we weren't against the Serb people, just Milosevic.

Joseph Collins is a senior fellow in the political-military program at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former Gulf War colonel.

NATO is lucky to have gotten off with what it did. It's created a tremendous mess
in Serbia in order to get what might have been gotten using other measures. Had
we had a more robust position going in, bombing may not have been necessary. But
we looked weak going in, and so Slobodan Milosevic decided that he would take a
chance that we would lose the will to bomb or that the coalition would fracture
early on. But this is not a vindication in any way. This is the sloppiest
military operation of the last eight years by far, and that's another reason why we
ought not to be crowing.

We may look back on this day as a day of false jubilation. This peace enforcement
mission is going to be tough. The commanders have an awful lot to contend with --
they have a devastated area, they have unexploded mines from one end of the
country to the other, they have an aggrieved Albanian population perhaps looking
for revenge, and they will undoubtedly have a Serb minority holding on for dear
life, and then there's the issue of the KLA and what they're future is going to
be. My guess is that this peace enforcement mission will be much more difficult
than the one in Bosnia, that it will involve casualties and some limited
fighting, and in the end it may look more like Somalia than it does like Bosnia.

The deal apparently accomplishes nearly all of NATO's objectives, but there's an
awful lot that still needs to be worked out. Among the things that need to be
worked out are the exact composition and command and control of the peacekeeping
force. There, you're not only negotiating with the opposite side, but you're also
having a rather intense conversation inside the NATO alliance and with Russia.
There's the issue of coordinating the withdrawal with the bombing cessation,
which is a fairly complex technical problem. And then the third thing, which
could end up being the largest problem, is the pulling and hauling that will go
on between the EU, NATO, the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council. By
virtue of all of this being passed over to the U.N. Security Council for
resolution, the China factor is raised. If there's one nation in the world that's
more Serbian than Serbia on the issue of sovereignty and on its
feelings toward NATO, it's China.

Whether the agreement holds depends on which Milosevic we're talking to. The
first Milosevic, the one we see most frequently, is a guy who lies, cheats and
steals as often as he can on nearly every issue. The other Milosevic, the
Milosevic of the Dayton Accords, who is a guy who, when presented with overwhelming
political force or fact, is capable of making rational judgments and carrying
out agreements. One of the things that might have pushed Milosevic over the edge
was the indictment. People said the indictment would make it difficult to
negotiate with him, but they may have been wrong 180 degrees. It may have
facilitated the agreement.

I hope the refugees can return soon. I hope that because of the meager conditions
they're living under, particularly in Macedonia, they'll be happy to jump on
their tractors, bicycles or whatever they've got and go home and see what they
can do.

Laura Silber is the author of "Yugoslavia: Death of a Nation."

A plan to end the bombing and allow the hundreds of thousands of Albanians to
return to their homes or to begin rebuilding homes is positive. The details need
to be worked out, so we still need to be a bit cautious about what implementation
of the peace agreement will mean. But if Slobodan Milosevic follows through and
the forces withdraw from Kosovo, I think there's every reason to welcome the
plan. One weakness in the plan is that it doesn't totally define the status of
Kosovo (and this was the case with Rambouillet, too). We know it remains in
Yugoslavia, which clearly isn't what the KLA wants, but it is what the West
wants. There could also be a breakdown if one of the sides decides not to comply
-- we have the issues of whether Milosevic will pull out and whether the KLA will
back this plan.

It's impossible to predict what's going to happen in the next few weeks let alone
the next few years. It all depends on what happens in Serbia. It depends on
whether there's sufficient security for the Albanians who come back, too. If a
substantial number of the Albanians who were expelled return, that could be the
beginning of a return to some sort of life in Kosovo. That will take the
international community staying engaged not only militarily, but also
economically and politically.

The next question is obviously what happens to Serbia, and that is a key issue.
Serbia needs to be democratized, but it can't be if Milosevic remains in power.
If he stays in power, the West is going to be reluctant to give Serbia money. But
Serbia needs to be renewed -- economically and politically -- and it needs
Western engagement. People who think that Kosovo and Bosnia can be oases of
peace while allowing Serbia to fester don't understand the Balkans. Serbia needs
to be reintegrated into the Balkans and into Europe. There's going to have to be
some sort of Marshall Plan that will include not only Kosovo, but Serbia, too.
You have to realize that there are 8 million people in Serbia, and the
livelihoods of many have been destroyed in the bombings.

Milosevic's indictment will remain in effect and he won't be able to leave
Serbia. It will be very difficult for the West to allow any deal to be made on
that. We won't see this time like we saw in Dayton, a handshake between Milosevic
and Clinton or Yeltsin and Milosevic. Milosevic will not be rehabilitated and
praised for his constructive behavior.

[The deal] will definitely help U.S.- [Russian] relations, but it depends on how it
plays out in the coming months. [Russia's] relationship with America has been terribly
damaged by this, as well as America-Chinese. The U.S. will have to devote some
effort to repairing these relationships, and this could open the door to do that.

Baton Haxhiu is the exiled editor in chief of Koha Ditore, Kosovo's leading
Albanian newspaper.

I'm not happy because the international community is dealing with Milosevic, who is a criminal, not a president. He was behind the crimes and killings in Kosovo, and before in the villages and towns of Bosnia and Croatia. To deal with the man behind these unbearable crimes is morally corrupt. I'll only be optimistic when I see NATO troops in Kosovo and the Serbian troops out. Kosovars are just waiting for the troops to leave and for peace and democracy to be restored. But they are not optimistic at this moment.

For many years the international community promised to protect the [Kosovar] Albanians from the Serbians and their regime and provide autonomy and a special protective force. But this never happened. In the Rambouillet agreement, there was a provision for a referendum after three years, but that's not in the new deal, and that's a big concession to Milosevic. And for two months, the Russian government never acknowledged Milosevic's genocide in Kosovo. If Russia is part of the peacekeeping force, I don't know how we [Kosovar Albanians] can return to Kosovo. I can understand their desire to participate in an international deal, but morally the Russians can't support peace after they supported the war and crimes in Kosovo. It would be very hard for Albanians to respect any Russian troops. They would be viewed like Serbs. To have Russian troops in Kosovo seems like a sophisticated partition plan. It would also be hard to disarm the Kosovo Liberation Army if any Serbian troops are allowed to return to Kosovo's borders and interior.

The international community is making the same mistake it made in Bosnia -- it has cut a deal with Milosevic and must now continue to deal with him for the next five years. The deal doesn't create a way toward democracy in Serbia. The losers are NATO, the international community and the Albanians. The big winner is Russia.

By Daryl Lindsey

Daryl Lindsey is associate editor of Salon News and an Arthur Burns fellow. He currently lives in Berlin and writes for Salon and Die Welt.

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