Uncomfortable Peace in Kosovo

Serb leader says he'll comply with international demands and avoid NATO strikes. But Kosovars feel like the losers.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

After staving off NATO airstrikes for the moment, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is well positioned to begin negotiations about the future of Kosovo.

In a week of marathon negotiations that at times were described as "heated," US envoy Richard Holbrooke and Mr. Milosevic came to an agreement announced in Belgrade Oct. 13 aimed at stopping the violence in the separatist province of Kosovo.

While ethnic Albanians in Pristina called the agreement inadequate, analysts in Belgrade said it was a victory for Milosevic.

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"It's an old story," says Ognjen Pribicevic, a political analyst at the University of Belgrade. "This will allow him to stabilize his power and we will probably have the same [resolution] of Kosovo that we would have had without the crisis."

That result would be limited autonomy along the lines of what Kosovo had before such status was stripped, by Milosevic, in 1989.

Mr. Holbrooke was cautious Oct. 13 in hailing the agreement, saying that future developments will be guided by action on the ground. "The emergency phase of the crisis is not over," he says.

Under the deal, Milosevic will grant full access in Kosovo to a 2,000-person verification mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The OSCE will assess compliance with a United Nations order for withdrawal of Serbian special police and military forces, who for the past seven months have been engaged in a fight with ethnic Albanian separatists.

An OSCE spokesman said the group will begin moving into the region immediately. Also, Milosevic agreed to allow noncombat airplanes to fly over Kosovo to further ensure compliance.

"We agreed that the problems concerning Kosovo should be solved peacefully and by political means," Milosevic said in a rare television address Oct. 13. "By this agreement, the danger of military intervention has been averted. The political solution will be pointed to the equality of all nationalities in Kosovo."

Although NATO airstrikes are still possible, the focus of diplomatic efforts will now turn to talks on the future status of Serbia, where ethnic Albanians are a 90 percent majority.

Kosovo was an autonomous province of Kosovo until Milosevic rose to power in 1989. Fueling a wave of nationalism in the process, Milosevic purged many Albanians from their jobs and handed the police force to the Serbs. The repression that ensued led the Albanians to form underground government, schools, and health care. Also, the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army slowly grew in the rural villages.

THE Serbs' brutal campaign against the KLA early this year and recent evidence of atrocities against civilians led to the threat of NATO airstrikes. More than 600 ethnic Albanians were killed and some 270,000 were forced from their homes. An estimated 50,000 ethnic Albanians are living in the open as winter approaches.

The next step of diplomatic efforts - settlement of the status of Kosovo - is likely to be the most difficult. Although the Albanians want complete independence, recent proposals indicate they will have to settle for autonomy within Serbia after a three-year transition phase. A KLA spokesman in Switzerland said Tuesday the group will stick by its call for nothing short of independence.

Even if the Albanians accept autonomy, that will be hard to negotiate. A major sticking point in any compromise is likely to be the composition of a new police force. While the Albanians want the police to reflect their 90 percent population majority in the province, the Serbs are pushing for a 50-50 split of the force.

According to analysts, Milosevic is in an excellent position to negotiate the future of Kosovo. In recent weeks, under the threat of NATO airstrikes, he has consolidated his power at home by cracking down on the independent media and muting the political opposition. In Kosovo, he was able to finish a massive offensive before the threats of military intervention became serious.

"He's one step closer to reinventing himself as a savior of the nation and a peacekeeper," says Dukagjin Gurani, an editor at the Albanian-language Koha Ditore newspaper in Pristina.

Albanians in Pristina were disappointed by the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal.

Muhamet Hamiti, a spokesman for the main ethnic Albanian political party, said the nonmilitary OSCE is not suited to calming the battlefields of Kosovo. Similar observers were ineffective in Croatia and Bosnia before the outbreak of war. "The OSCE is not the organization that can enforce [peace]," Mr. Hamiti says. "Milosevic knows that and that's why he let them in."

Also, the Albanians feel as if they're being left out of the negotiating process while the future of Kosovo hangs in the balance. US diplomats have privately criticized the leadership of de-facto ethnic Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova.

"As far as I can see it looks like there are two sides - the Serbs and the West - but not the Kosovo side," says a source close to Rugova. "They're forgetting the will of the people here."

Finally, there is the question of whether Mr. Milosevic can be trusted, raised Oct. 12 by President Clinton. "Balkan graveyards are full of President Milosevic's broken promises," he said.

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