The day after

As Kosovo prepares for peace, big questions remain about the KLA, Slobodan Milosevic and independence.

Laura Rozen
June 5, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

One day after Belgrade signaled it would agree to peace on the West's
terms, Kosovo Albanians said they wanted to take a hard look at the exact
terms of the peace agreement Belgrade said it would enter into, while Serbs
expressed frustration that President Slobodan Milosevic had made them
endure 10 weeks of NATO bombing with little to show for it.

NATO airstrikes continued Friday in parts of Serbia, despite the vote Thursday by the Serbian parliament to support the Western-backed peace plan for Kosovo. The plan calls for all
Serbian forces to be withdrawn from the province within a week, and the
deployment of an armed international peacekeeping force for the province,
which would essentially become an international protectorate for the next
several years. But several details of the plan remain unclear, including
the command structure of the peacekeeping force, whether Russian troops
would serve under NATO command, or control parts of Kosovo alone, and what will become of the Kosovo Liberation Army.


While NATO countries insist that the entire Kosovo force serve under NATO
command, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott admitted Friday that the
Russians had still not agreed to that. "The Russian government has a
different position. This is one of the issues that we will continue to work
on," Talbott said at a press conference in Brussels, Belgium, Friday.

Despite the serious details seemingly left to be worked out for the peace
plan, signs in the region are that the plan is for real. A NATO
spokesman in Macedonia said to expect some 15,000 additional international
forces to be heading here over the next days and weeks, on top of the
16,000 NATO forces already in place here. The Macedonian government
approved the stationing of additional NATO forces here after receiving a
security guarantee from NATO.

The Kosovo Liberation Army complained about the vagueness
of the peace plan that it says the international community has put forward
in its name without sufficient consultation.


"We are not very pleased with this peace deal," Pleurat Sejdiu, a spokesman
for the KLA in London, told the BBC. "But generally it's a good step
forward and first step in this process."

"It is not a problem to demilitarize the KLA," Sejdiu insisted, although that was one of the
key sticking points that led to a delay in the KLA signing onto a previous
international peace plan for Kosovo. "The main problem is the future of
Kosova. We don't want now at this moment to talk about some fixed deal for
the future," that would foreclose the possibility of future independence
for Kosovo. (Kosova is the Kosovar term for the would-be independent state.)

A Kosovo Albanian political analyst with ties to the KLA says that the KLA
is preparing itself for political life after the war by increasingly
separating its political wing, led by 29-year-old Hashim Thaci, from
its military wing, led by Agim Ceku, who had significant
war experience in Croatia. The political wing intends to transform
itself into a legitimate force in Kosovo. The analyst
says that they have been trying to get pacifist Kosovo Albanian
politician Ibrahim Rugova, now in exile in Rome, to agree to the largely
symbolic post of president of Kosova, while the KLA would take control of
the most important Kosovo ministries, including those of defense. There is
also talk that the military wing of the KLA could be transformed into the
foundation for a new police force for Kosovo.


Some Kosovo Albanian intellectuals -- who have used the media, and not arms,
to serve the cause of Kosovo independence -- say that after the horrors the
Kosovo Albanians have suffered at the hands of Serbian forces over the past
10 weeks, autonomy under the Serbs is no longer enough, at least not in the
long term.

"Unfortunately, the last two months have corrupted the right of the Serbs
to ask for coexistence with the Albanians," said Ardijan Arifaj, the
foreign editor of the leading Kosovo Albanian newspaper, Koha Ditore, now
publishing in exile from the northwestern Macedonian city of Tetova. "I am
not suggesting they should leave. I am suggesting that those who have
committed crimes, have made it more difficult for Serbs and Albanians to
ever live together. They should face justice."


Arifaj, one of the leading young journalists from Kosovo, feels himself and
other Kosovo Albanians hardened by their experience over the past few
months, in which the war that had been simmering for months in the Kosovo
countryside, where the KLA was active, finally came to the capital city,
Pristina. It came in the figure of black-masked Serbian police, soldiers
and paramilitaries, but also some Serbian neighbors who had taken up arms,
moving from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the city, ordering his
community of Kosovo Albanian journalists, human rights workers, professors
and students to flee the province. His editor, Veton Surroi, one of the
negotiators at peace talks in France earlier this year, is still in hiding
in Pristina; the Koha Ditore staff has printed a poster of
him and placed it on the wall of the office they are using while in exile
in Tetova. The poster shows the wryly smiling, dark bearded Surroi with a
cigar, and has the caption "There is always someone watching you."

"The Serbs of Kosovo are talking about leaving when the Serbian army
withdraws. They think the independence of Kosova is inevitable. For once, I
share their opinion," Arifaj muses. "The Albanians of Kosova simply cannot
be put to live under the same regime that has been committing all these
crimes against them."

Meanwhile, emboldened by the prospect of an end to the NATO bombing, which had turned
many Serbs fiercely against the West, some pro-democracy groups in Serbia called
for Milosevic to resign.


"The biggest thing that Milosevic can do for the citizens of Serbia is to
resign because of a number of wrong political decisions which have, amid a
huge diplomatic and military pressure on Yugoslavia, resulted in the deaths
of a large number of citizens and the destruction of the largest part of
the country's infrastructure," said Goran Svilanovic, the head of the
pacifist Serbian political party Civic Alliance of Serbia. "He must resign
so that we can obtain, within the peace package, what we were basically
offered before the bombing."

That sentiment was echoed by Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic. "I wonder if it was necessary to take 70 days of bombing to accept what -- as everybody in their right minds knew -- had to be accepted," Djindjic said Thursday from the capital of the pro-Western, smaller Yugoslav republic of Montenegro, where he has sought refuge from the threat of assassination by increasingly powerful anti-democratic groups in Serbia.

Emphasizing that no reconstruction assistance would be provided to a Serbia
with Milosevic, who was last week indicted for war crimes, at the helm,
Washington gave the Serbian people an economic incentive to dump their leader.


"There are a number of steps that we think need to be taken before we could
support the Serbian integration into the rest of Europe, including
reconstruction assistance that we would not be prepared to provide unless
and until they pursue a democratic course," said State Department spokesman
Jamie Rubin.

Analysts in the Serbian capital said serious questions about Milosevic's
political responsibility would come only after the Serbian population got
relief from the airstrikes and the hardships they have created.

"First, people would desperately like to see the end of these airstrikes,"
said Nenad Stefanovic, a political analyst and writer for the independent,
opposition Belgrade weekly Vreme. "In Belgrade we are living without
electricity, without running water. If NATO keeps bombing for two or three
more days, we may be without electricity for the next six months."

"After airstrikes end, then the Serbian public may begin to think about
political responsibility for what has happened here," added Stefanovic, by
mobile phone from Belgrade Friday. "This war has provoked very
anti-American, very anti-West feelings. Because if you see your kids living
in bomb shelters, and a lot of civilians killed, you must be against those
people who bombed your country. But people here will soon start to realize
that a lot of people died for nothing. And then I think this question of
political responsibility will appear more and more."


Laura Rozen

Laura Rozen writes about U.S. foreign policy and the Balkans crisis for Salon News.

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