Slippery solutions for a Kosovo peace

US changes key words from the pre-bombing peace plan. Some experts say

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Ask yourself: If you were a Kosovo refugee, would you return to a pillaged homeland that still belonged to Slobodan Milosevic's Yugoslavia - even if it were autonomous and protected by NATO peacekeeping troops?

Considering the terror unleashed by Mr. Milosevic's forces, the answer is probably "no." And that is why Balkans experts and even NATO members now say that the plan for an autonomous Kosovo has been overtaken by events. The plan, which was proposed to Yugoslavia in February at talks in Rambouillet, France, may be defunct.

But if not the Rambouillet plan, then what?

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Military and foreign policy specialists studying the region outline at least two scenarios for an eventual solution to Kosovo. One involves the partitioning of Kosovo into Serb and ethnic Albanian areas. The other would turn Kosovo into an international protectorate, secured by worldwide forces but no longer a part of Yugoslavia.

Under both scenarios, Kosovo's ethnic Albanians could eventually move toward independence. It's an outcome that, so far, only Kosovo's Albanians have favored, but which some analysts now see as inevitable.

One thing is certain, if ethnic Albanians were cool to autonomy under Yugoslavia before the war, "they sure as heck aren't going to want it now," says Michael O'Hanlon, a foreign affairs and military analyst at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

He echoes the comments of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who last week admitted that "it's more and more difficult to foresee autonomy within the Federal Republic [of Yugoslavia]."

Mr. O'Hanlon is a supporter of partitioning Kosovo. He proposes that NATO secure the southern two-thirds of Kosovo for the Albanians, who would then hold a referendum on their independence.

The northern slice, roughly a third of Kosovo, would be ceded to Yugoslavia's province of Serbia. The north contains the most important Serb monasteries and churches, though it does not include the treasured Field of Blackbirds, scene of the epic 1389 battle in which the Serbs were defeated by the Turks.

O'Hanlon maintains that dividing Kosovo "is the only way you can get a stable outcome" because both sides have legitimate claims to the territory.

But other analysts disagree. Foremost, they don't want to reward Milosevic by giving him any part of Kosovo. Additionally, the north holds Kosovo's mineral wealth of coal, gold, and silver. It would be unfair to deprive the ethnic Albanians of their main resource, these analysts say. Plus, at least 500,000 Albanians wouldn't be able to return to their northern homes.

"It would be a little bit like tension in the Middle East over the West Bank. The conflict could go on forever," with ethnic Albanians wanting to reclaim their northern lands and Serbs wanting to reclaim the rest of Kosovo, says Thomas Henriksen, a foreign policy expert at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif.

An alternative being considered by the State Department would turn Kosovo into an international protectorate under a special United Nations mandate.

With protectorate status, Kosovo would become a "quasi-independent state," says Janusz Bugajski, an Eastern Europe expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here. It would likely govern its internal affairs, but not its foreign affairs, and would be ineligible to hold a seat at international organizations like the UN.

The important thing is that "Belgrade wouldn't have a say" in its governance, says Mr. Bugajski. But the downside to this scenario is that it commits peacekeeping forces to the region indefinitely, and the urge for independence among the Kosovar Albanians would not go away.

This week in Brussels, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright mentioned the protectorate idea while resoundingly rejecting the possibility of partitioning Kosovo. A partition, she said, "is against the theories that we have had about [preserving] a multiethnic society." She added the Serb areas are not all grouped, meaning that people would have to be relocated if the province were divided.

What's clear is that Rambouillet, which envisioned an autonomous Kosovo partially policed by Yugoslav forces and still under the wing of Milosevic, is no longer tenable, even in the view of Ms. Albright, who pushed so hard for the accord in the first place.

Since early April, the Clinton administration has been distancing itself from the specific outline of Rambouillet, if not its "principles." It no longer talks about NATO forces, but rather "international security forces," which would allow the Russians to take part. It speaks less about autonomy and more about "self-government."

And Albright said this week that in order for the refugees to return, all Yugoslav and Serb forces would have to leave Kosovo.

Of course, getting Milosevic to accept any of these scenarios is the tricky part. NATO may feel diplomacy is premature, which is why it is determined to continue its air campaign and calls are growing for the introduction of ground troops.

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