- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Kosovo's ethnic Albanian rebels had the world's firepower at their fingertips in 1999; now they're back asking for more in Macedonia.

When NATO and the United Nations blessed the guerillas as a civilian peacekeeping corps in Kosovo in September 1999, complete with new uniforms and a new name, the renegade band had little responsibility but to demilitarize. In return for their paper promise, they received the withdrawal of Serb forces and the eventual overthrow of Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic. In a few months, they were not only able to return to their homes, but to wage a campaign of reverse ethnic cleansing on the Serbs.

Now they're hoping the world will once again come to their aid as they band with Macedonia's Albanians, who make up around one-third of the population there, in search of self-rule, new borders and more rights. Unlike two years ago, though, they are rebelling against a democratically elected government in Macedonia and Yugoslavia, and have shown themselves to be an unreliable and violent force. Washington is aptly not ready for another blessing.

"Kosovo inspired us a great deal," Arban Aliu, who oversees rebel fighters in Tetovo, Macedonia, told the Associated Press. "We can do the same thing here," he said, pledging that they would take this war to all of Macedonia.

Now NATO and the United States are faced with a dilemma: On the one hand, NATO's rebel stepchildren have come to expect that their powerful ally during the Kosovo bombing campaign will continue to come to their aid, regardless of their wayward actions. On the other hand, the Macedonians are asking for help in fighting those NATO protected while Mr. Milosevic was still in power.

To the first question, the rebels must realize that their own intransigence, evidenced by their use of the demilitarized zone on the border of Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia to launch attacks and strengthen an arms supply line to different Albanian rebel groups, revokes any right they had to protection. Their recent attacks on Macedonia have sent more than 5,000 Macedonians fleeing into neighboring countries. Secondly, they must realize that turning their focus from building their own infrastructure to conquering others' does nothing to enhance the cause of an independent Kosovo.

NATO and the United States should support nonmilitary aid to the Macedonians to protect the borders and quell the violence. They should also support the moderate ethnic Albanian communities in Kosovo and Macedonia, which seek peaceful and political means of strengthening their minority rights.

The international community should not have adopted the rebels in the first place. But now that it has, it must make clear to the rebels that it will not support violent means for the ethnic Albanians to acquire self-determination. Until it does that, leaders like Mr. Aliu and his rebels will confidently continue to make expanding war in the Balkans their cause.


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