- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

NATO said yesterday it has no plans to reduce its forces in Kosovo despite the ouster of Slobodan Milosevic.

But NATO officials and private analysts warned that the alliance faces increasingly difficult choices in the province, which still belongs to Serbia but is dominated by ethnic Albanian separatists who are determined to break free.

"It is too early to identify exactly how the changes in Yugoslavia will affect the region," NATO Secretary-General George Robertson told defense chiefs of the 19-nation alliance at a meeting in Birmingham, England, yesterday.

Mr. Robertson said the international military missions in Kosovo and Bosnia, both dominated by NATO forces, will stay at present levels for now about 45,000 in Kosovo and another 20,000 in Bosnia.

But if democratic forces under new Yugoslavian President Vojislav Kostunica consolidate their hold in Serbia, NATO leaders admitted, the contradictions over Kosovo will only sharpen.

"This is obviously a difficult thing to accomplish," U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Walter Slocombe told reporters at the NATO gathering. "Not ever addressing the issue is not viable, but I think it will be a gradual process."

Said Ivo Daalder, a Balkans analyst at the Brookings Institution: "So long as Slobodan Milosevic was in power, it was easy for everyone to say Yugoslavia should not have any role in Kosovo. Clearly, it's a more difficult calculation now."

But Mr. Daalder noted that Mr. Kostunica has said he accepts the U.N. resolution establishing the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo, a resolution that also acknowledges the province remains a part of Yugoslavia.

The United States, leading European powers and the United Nations all recognize Yugoslavia's sovereignty over Kosovo, although they are seeking to expand the territory's autonomy within the Yugoslav federation.

The longer term problem may be Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, whose more militant leaders continue to demand their own state.

Before the Sept. 24 elections in Serbia that eventually felled Mr. Milosevic, many Kosovo Albanians were openly rooting for Mr. Milosevic, calculating that their cause would lose international support if the more moderate Mr. Kostunica won.

"It could get highly embarrassing for us," argued Robert Hayden, director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "To the ethnic Albanians, we're just going to be in the way."

Hashem Thaci, formerly of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army and now head of one of Kosovo's two Albanian political parties, told the Reuters news agency in an interview yesterday that "Kosovo fought a war for freedom and independence."

Mr. Thaci said it would be "very dangerous" for Serbia and the region if Mr. Kostunica insisted on increasing Belgrade's control over Kosovo.

"He and Serbia should once and for all give up the policy of rule over Kosovo," he said.

In an interview on French television Monday, Mr. Kostunica said that independence for either Kosovo or Montenegro Serbia's restive junior partner in what remains of the Yugoslavian federation was out of the question.

For now, analysts and diplomats say, the question of Kosovo's ultimate fate may call for a little creative ambiguity.

Bernard Kouchner, the United Nations' administrative point man in Kosovo, said in a visit to Macedonia that it was "too early to talk about a solution" for the conflict.

"Let's go step by step," he said yesterday. "At the moment we need the [Serbian and Albanian] communities to accept to coexist and after that to accept, step by step, a sort of comprehension."

Mr. Daalder of the Brookings Institution noted that the status of Kosovo "is not priority No. 1 for Kostunica right now," as he tries to consolidate power and form a working government in Belgrade.

And Kosovo's Albanians for now are focused on their own U.N.-organized elections Oct. 28 to fill local municipal offices and provide a possible blueprint for greater local autonomy.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide