- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Serbs and the West alike hoped Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica would be a miracle worker for his conflict-torn country. International leaders glad to be rid of former President Slobodan Milosevic welcomed the new leader with high hopes in meetings with the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe during the last week. Meanwhile, the new president sent tanks to the buffer zone between Serbia and Kosovo and Mr. Milosevic was re-elected as president of his Socialist Party of Serbia. And Belgrade is not about to let the United States forget that it has a very keen interest in these developments.

It is, after all, the 7,000 U.S. troops controlling eastern Kosovo which Belgrade has called on to stop the violence on the border. It is the United States which has pledged $100 million in aid to Yugoslavia. And it is the United States and its NATO colleagues which were charged to keep the ethnic Albanian guerillas under control, the same rebels who attacked Serbian police last week and captured four villages, prompting Belgrade's response.

Though Mr. Kostunica backed off from an ultimatum for the international peacekeepers to calm the violence by a Monday night deadline, tensions remain high. Around 3,000 ethnic Albanians have fled from southern Serbia to Kosovo, fearing a new wave of violence.

The new leader has taken the first step toward a stable government by resolving to use diplomacy to lead toward a lasting peace. He has invited moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova for talks, and both sides have now agreed to a ceasefire. But as long as Yugoslavia continues to put those who have been indicted for war crimes into power, it will be hard to move toward a stable democracy.

Mr. Milosevic can use his re-election as a mandate to keep fanning the fears of both ethnic Albanians, who worry that they will be "cleansed," and Serbs, who fear the vengeance of Mr. Milosevic's remaining power base. Or Mr. Kostunica can rally the population to tell Mr. Milosevic that it has had enough of hatred. The United States should ensure the manpower and funds it has promised are being used to uphold the latter option. Without the will of the Serbian and Kosovar people to stop violent ultranationalism though, U.S. decisiveness will not bring a lasting peace.

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