Nearly 10 weeks after the last Yugoslav forces pulled out of Kosovo, ethnic cleansing has once again reared its ugly head in the troubled Balkan province. This time around, however, it is ethnic Albanians that are terrorizing Serbs and forcing them to flee. Reports are heard daily of Serb deaths or beatings. Western officials estimate that the Serb population of Pristina, the provincial capitol, has been reduced from a prewar total of 30,000 to less than 2,000 now. It is believed that there are only 22,000 Serbs left in the province, only one-tenth the number six months ago.
To their credit, since entering Kosovo June 12, NATO’s 40,000 KFOR troops have brought a semblance of order to the province. A brisk trade has resumed with bordering states, shop shelves are full and Pristina’s cafes and restaurants are thriving once again. However, the seeming inability of NATO to stop attacks on Serbs raises doubt over whether it can fulfill its mandate to establish a free and multiethnic society in Kosovo.
The attacks on Serbs appear to be systematic, indicating that they go beyond a random desire for revenge for atrocities committed by Serbs against Kosovars. Whether the Kosovo Liberation Army is behind the ethnic cleansing, as most Western officials suspect, remains unclear. KLA leader Hashim Thaci has condemned the attacks, and has even offered the use of the KLA police to crackdown on disorder (an offer the U.N. administration has wisely turned down for fear of legitimizing the KLA’s claim to the leadership of Kosovo).
Many observers believe that even if KLA leaders are not behind the violence, they are unable to stop the more radical members of their group from acting unilaterally. Some members of the KLA, which fought an 18-month guerrilla war for Kosovo’s independence, reportedly feel that the United Nations is denying the group its deserved leadership role. Evidence also suggests that criminal gangs from Albania, intent on driving Serbs from their land and then selling it to Kosovars, may be behind some of the acts of violence. Regardless of their sources, the attacks have forced NATO to walk a tightrope between protecting the remaining Serbs and avoiding being viewed as pro-Serb by the ethnic Albanian populace.
NATO must protect the Serbs and halt the ethnic cleansing to fulfill its mandate. Yet, the longer KFOR continues to do so, the more it arouses the ire of Kosovars. Incidents of hostility by ethnic Albanians against peacekeepers are rapidly increasing. In the past two weeks, American, British, French and Russian peacekeepers have all had tense armed confrontations with the local Albanian population. Russian troops are being fired at on a daily basis, and in the most serious incident, two Russian peacekeepers were shot and wounded. Authorities have taken steps to combat the problem. The U.N. administration in Kosovo has issued a decree allowing U.N. police and KFOR troops to detain people deemed a threat to public order for up to 12 hours, removing them from their hometowns or even temporarily deporting them from Kosovo.
Such a step may help authorities deal with the worst troublemakers, however it is unlikely to present a long-term solution. Ultimately, success or failure of NATO’s mission boils down to a fundamental question: Can Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians be made to live in peace with Serbs? While “yes” would be the preferred response, the situation suggests otherwise. Too much blood has been shed, too many lives have been destroyed or disrupted, for Serbs and ethnic Albanians to resume living together in peace in the near future — if ever — without outside pressure forcing them to do so.
Bosnia presents a sobering case study for U.N. and NATO officials involved in Kosovo. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that the international community has spent on physical and political reconstruction (a large portion of which has allegedly been wasted through fraud), the wounds of the civil war that ended four years ago still fester and the country remains divided along Serb, Muslim and Croat ethnic lines. And a key issue, the return of refugees to areas that had been ethnically cleansed, has yet to be resolved. Mostar remains, according to a U.N. spokesman, “. . . the most divided city in the world.”
Perhaps the most important lesson that can be drawn from Bosnia’s experience is that true stability cannot be dictated by outside forces; it can only come with the consensus of a territory’s inhabitants. In Kosovo, as in Bosnia, such a consensus appears to be a long way in coming.
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