As Serbia and Croatia battled for chunks of disintegrating Yugoslavia seven years ago, warnings were sounded about the coming explosion in Bosnia. It came, and the international community fumbled for a response before piecing together the Dayton peace accords in 1995.
The same kind of warnings have long been sounded about Kosovo, the once-autonomous province of Serbia that is 90 percent ethnic Albanian and Muslim. After violence in recent days, including deadly attacks by Serbian police on civilians, the time for a decisive international response has come.
Kosovo isn't a local, Serb matter. The volatile province could draw a wide cast of Balkan players into violent confrontation. Neighboring Macedonia has a large Albanian population. Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria all have interests. And Albania proper is vitally concerned about the well-being of its kin in Kosovo.
Albania's political leaders have taken the lead in calling for international mediation. They know a widening Kosovo conflict could have a staggering impact on their already struggling land.
The resistance to outside intervention comes from Belgrade. Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic chose Kosovo, scene of a fabled 1389 battle between Serbs and Turks, as a platform for launching his post-communist hyper-nationalist politics in 1987. The fruit of such politics has been war, devastation, and hatred. Another harvest awaits in Kosovo if Milosevic and his minions reject talks with the Albanian majority.
The leaders of that majority stuck to nonviolent protest following the withdrawal of autonomy by Belgrade in 1989. Now, however, the resistance has grown increasingly militant. Serbian police have been killed, and a guerrilla force, the Kosovo Liberation Army, is gaining popular support.
The US and European powers that make up the Contact Group on Yugoslavia should waste no time in pressing Serbia to turn from violent crackdown to negotiations. And the international peacekeepers now in Macedonia must remain in place as one barrier, at least, to wider conflict.
Neither the world, nor the peoples of the Balkans, can afford a replay of Bosnia's cruel war on Kosovo's soil.