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With peace tantalizingly close in Kosovo, it is important to remember why NATO has waged its air war against Yugoslavia: Over 1 million ethnic Albanian Kosovars have been murdered or driven from their homes in a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. Yugoslav security forces were the instrument of oppression; their continued presence would make a mockery of Western promises to protect the Kosovars and ensure some semblance of normalcy in their lives. Only a complete and verified withdrawal and the presence of an international peacekeeping force can justify the military campaign that has been waged over the last two and a half months.

Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic thought that a signed agreement would create its own momentum. He gambled last weekend that public pressure would oblige Western governments to allow him to fudge the details and tweak the deal to Belgrade’s advantage. He was wrong. The West will not settle for peace at any price. Yugoslavia’s unwillingness to immediately withdraw its forces forced NATO to resume the air campaign.

Belgrade had hoped to drive a wedge between Russia and the West. Mr. Milosevic wants Russia to send troops to Kosovo, but he prefers that they be kept separate from the NATO contingent. He wants a Russian umbrella to protect the Serb presence in the region; but this vision of Kosovo as a new version of Cold-War Berlin tells us all we need to know about Belgrade’s thinking. Fortunately, that option vanished when Moscow agreed to the West’s proposed United Nations resolution for a ceasefire. It calls for a suspension of the bombing only after the Serbs begin their withdrawal from the region.

It is the right decision. The exiled Kosovars will be able to return to what is left of their homes only when the Serb forces have withdrawn. Mr. Milosevic’s record to date is proof that any peace deal must be strictly enforced and verified. While the West has intervened to protect Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians, the principle that it is safeguarding — the right to live free from fear — is a basic human right. To accept an expedient, but false, peace would diminish us all.

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