Kosovo massacre raises stakes

International community debates an effective response to thekilling of civilian ethnic Albanians.

The difficulties facing Kosovo may be best summed up by the orange trucks of the international monitors here in Racak. Although standing by with good intent, the trucks were too far away, too late, to deal with the killings of more than 40 ethnic Albanians in the village last week.

In a year of fighting in Serbia's southern province, the violence was among the most brutal. It may also be the most difficult for the international community to swallow - and will likely force world leaders to reconsider their position on Kosovo.

Airstrikes are on the table of options that the international community is considering. Ground troops are a distant consideration being talked about more and more by diplomats in confidence.

But, analysts say, the international community is more boxed in than ever, once again leaving Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in an advantaged position. With some 800 unarmed observers on the ground, NATO airstrikes could only come following a complicated evacuation.

And, without armed ground troops to fill the void after a bombing, ethnic Albanians could be left behind to face the fury of the Yugoslav Army.

"What we have now is not working. You can see that," says a Western diplomat. "There is certainly a desire for ground troops, but that's not politically easy."

Ambassadors from NATO countries met Sunday and sent Gen. Wesley Clark, the alliance's commander for Europe, and Gen. Klaus Naumann to Belgrade. But it was evident that there was little they could do at this time other than issue a stern warning and urge Mr. Milosevic to honor a fragile cease-fire that has been in place since October.

A senior NATO official speaking on the condition of anonymity said the level of outrage was "much stronger" now than after previous massacres, and that there was a consensus that the Serbs were responsible.

"We are highly concerned at the spiraling increase in violence," says the official, adding that, "NATO is a an organization of 16 sovereign nations ... this makes it less rapid to react than any single country."

In New York yesterday, the United Nations Security Council was also expected to meet on Kosovo.

Meanwhile, the UN's chief war-crimes prosecutor, Louise Arbour, was denied access to Kosovo by Yugoslav border guards. Ms. Arbour flew into Macedonia yesterday in an attempt to investigate the Racak massacre, which clearly was aimed at a civilian population.

Under an October agreement between US diplomat Richard Holbrooke and Mr. Milosevic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was put in charge of monitoring Kosovo and verifying that Serbian police and military forces halt their aggression against the ethnic Albanians, who are 90 percent of Kosovo's population.

The Albanians want independence, particularly the guerrillas known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which is increasingly filling a leadership vacuum in the provincial capital of Pristina.

The KLA last week released eight Yugoslav soldiers it had captured, but, in light of the Racak massacre, it may feel it got nothing in return.

"The KLA feels betrayed," says Dukagjin Gurani, an editor at the Koha Ditore Times, an Albanian-run daily with strong connections to the KLA. "They offered their goodwill to the international community, but the internationals showed they could get [no similar concessions] from the Serbian side."

The Serbs have been unapologetic, saying Kosovo is their holy land, and their crackdowns are necessary to contain the KLA, which they call a terrorist organization. State television has stepped up its propaganda in recent days, with entire news hours devoted to Kosovo.

When Serbian President Milan Milutinovic addressed the nation, he accused the OSCE of plotting with the KLA to undermine Yugoslavia's territorial integrity. Serbian officials also claimed the massacre was staged to make it look as if the victims were civilians, although the officials have been unable to provide evidence.

The senior NATO official called such claims "a mockery."

The violence continued yesterday in Racak, despite the warnings from NATO.

Moreover, the injuring of two OSCE workers over the weekend was a reminder that the monitors are vulnerable and could potentially be used as hostages or human shields.

"We are concerned, but we knew this mission would not be a walk in the park," says OSCE spokesman Sandy Blyth. "You could pontificate 100 possibilities, but it is impossible to say what kind of wire would have to be tripped for us to withdraw."

For now, the international community may have to wait for the next move by Milosevic. Will he continue the aggression, and push NATO closer to air strikes? Or will he comply at the last second, as he has done so many times before?

According to Cedomir Antic, a spokesman for the opposition Democratic Party in Belgrade, "[Milosevic] may feel he is losing Kosovo, but would prefer to do so with international intervention - thus giving himself a scapegoat.

"He's preparing the Serbian people for losing Kosovo," says Mr. Antic. "He has no program there that can work. It is the only thing he knows how to do."

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