Getting to yes: Why Milosevic is balking at peace

As diplomats wrangle, Serbian forces reportedly loot Kosovo cities.


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

There are two main obstacles to peace in Kosovo. First, there are never-resolved disagreements between Russia and the NATO alliance over such central issues as the command structure of the military force that would secure the region. Second, there is the desire of Slobodan Milosevic to save face.

Milosevic and the Yugoslav army want several measures adopted that would help make defeat more palatable. Milosevic is trying to spin Serbia's capitulation as a victory, claiming that he has preserved the territorial integrity of Serbia and Yugoslavia while wiping out much of the Kosovo Liberation Army. For its part, NATO seems to be saying, "Call it whatever you want, but NATO, and not Yugoslavia, will control Kosovo" -- including the borders, the visas, deciding who can come back and when, which Yugoslav troops might be permitted in, etc.

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Milosevic's biggest ally in his attempt at damage control is Moscow, which shares Serbia's interest in having the United Nations, not NATO, provide the hats the international peacekeepers wear in Kosovo. One of the key differences yet to be ironed out by the Russians and the NATO alliance is how Russian peacekeepers will serve alongside NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo.

"As for the Russian presence, we will never be under NATO's command. That is out of the question. We have never even taken that into consideration," Russian Kosovo envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin said Sunday.

Nick Dowling, a former member of
President Clinton's National Security
Council, says the question of "command is still up in the air. I'd guess it'll be something like a 'stealth' NATO command structure behind a U.N. figurehead command and a Russian carve-out.
The key for NATO will be for Lt. Gen. [Michael] Jackson, the British commander, to be the man who really controls Kosovo."

As for the Russians, Dowling says, "I think they will be in, under some special command relationship reporting directly to the U.N. NATO has correctly rejected Moscow's proposal
that Russia have responsibility for the northeastern part of Kosovo (near
Serbia), for reasons of creating a partition and tension between KFOR
members" -- a reference to the proposed Kosovo peacekeeping force.

While it is a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace program and serves in the NATO-led peacekeeping force in Bosnia under separate command, Moscow is increasingly anti-NATO. It is hostile to the organization's expansion this year to include three former Soviet-bloc countries (Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) and fearful that NATO could at some point choose to intervene against a Russian crackdown on one of its separatist minorities. Russia wants the United Nations -- in which it controls a veto at the Security Council -- and not NATO to be the legal body that controls decision-making on Kosovo.

In addition, sources close to the failed talks between representatives of NATO and the Yugoslav army in the northeastern Macedonian city of Kumanova Sunday say the Russians, who were instrumental in getting Serbia to sign on to a peace agreement, are also stalling for time. Moscow says it will take a few weeks to send several thousand Russian peacekeepers to the region to participate in the international peacekeeping force for Kosovo. NATO, which has been actively preparing for such a mission since February, wants to pour in most of the 50,000 troops it plans to deploy within a week or two. British paratroops arrived in Macedonia Sunday in preparation to be an advance team entering Kosovo should the peace talks succeed, and hundreds more Allied troops have been moving into Macedonia over the weekend.

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Disagreements between Russia and the G-7 nations in Bonn, Germany, Monday forced the U.N. Security Council to delay a vote on the text of a Kosovo peace agreement until Tuesday.

Reports from Kosovo suggest the Serbian troops are taking advantage of the delay in implementing the peace agreement to further destroy the province they will likely soon be leaving. Western diplomats with access to satellite intelligence say that Serbian police are massively looting the Kosovo capital, Pristina, and the southwestern city of Prizren, and have lined up trucks to help cart off the goods.

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A reporter in Pristina says that several homes in the city are being burned, and both Serbian and Albanian civilians are terrified of the dangerous interim period between a Serbian troop withdrawal and the entrance of international troops.

In addition, Serbs lobbed shells into the northwestern Macedonian border town of Jazinc Tuesday, damaging a few homes (no one was killed). This is one of the first times that fighting has spilled over from Kosovo into Macedonia, although for weeks there has been intense fighting between Serbian troops and the KLA in parts of northern Albania, forcing Albanian troops on Sunday to evacuate aid groups and refugees from the area to points farther south.

Meanwhile, Western officials were due to hold talks with leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army in Tirana Tuesday, in preparation for advance NATO reconnaissance and military teams to move into the province. The KLA has provided NATO one of its main sources of on-the-ground information from Kosovo throughout the 76-day air campaign, in particular providing NATO targeting information.

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As the KLA meets with Western diplomats in Albania, international organizations including the United Nations, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were due to meet in Geneva Tuesday to hammer out responsibility for the civilian implementation of a Kosovo peace agreement.

One of the key projects envisaged by the Kosovo peace plan is the creation of an internationally trained and monitored police force for Kosovo. This force would be trained in democratic policing and human rights and would, for the first time in a decade, provide Kosovo Albanian police to enforce the law for Kosovo Albanians -- as opposed to the Serbian police sent by Belgrade who have brutally occupied the province for the past decade. The FBI is the lead agency being discussed to help oversee the recruitment and training of the new Kosovo police force.


Laura Rozen

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

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