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Kosovo: What Next?

March 3, 1999



No one ever said resolving the conflict in Kosovo would be easy. With talks set to resume March 15, Western peacemakers face dilemmas on all sides.

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First, can the Albanian Kosovars - particularly the guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) - be rallied behind a largely US-engineered peace plan that gives them less than they really want?

The answer to that question edged a little closer to "yes" with news that one of the leading Albanian hard-liners, KLA political representative Adem Demaci, has stepped down. Mr. Demaci and like-minded colleagues had been holding out for a virtual guarantee of Kosovar independence.

That outcome, of course, is anathema to Serb nationalists. They regard Kosovo, the site of a 14th-century defeat at the hands of the Turks, as sacred ground. And independence is not what the US and its European allies have in mind, either. Their goal is an immediate halt to fighting, renewed autonomy for the Kosovars within Yugoslavia, and armed international peacekeepers to enforce the deal.

Dilemma No. 2: The Serbs, led by Yugoslav president and demagogic nationalist Slobodan Milosevic, reject an international force out of hand - for now, at least. But the agreement's credibility hinges on such an enforcement tool. Peacekeepers will tread a fine line. They could run afoul even of the Albanians, since part of their mandate will be to disarm the KLA.

A fundamental need is for men on both sides of the conflict to put aside pride and vengeance in favor of the humility that recognizes the long-term interests of their people. The Kosovars will be better off with a deal that stops the killing and at least moves toward self-government. The Serbs should recognize that the nationalist war cries wielded by Mr. Milosevic have gained them nothing but international isolation and economic ruin.

It's time to stop assuming that reason and compromise are impossible in the Balkans. Faced with tough problems and growing violence as Serb forces mass along the southern border of Kosovo, European and US diplomats must intensify their efforts. Bring the Kosovars aboard the tentative peace plan, then redouble pressures on MIlosevic. He has to know the world won't tolerate more ethnic cleansing and atrocities.