Starting Point for Kosovo

If there were any doubts about "ethnic cleansing" taking place in Kosovo, those surely have been dispelled.

In the short time since NATO troops took up their police and disarmanent work, they have gathered plenty of evidence of war crimes and perhaps genocide. Much of it is horrific. Eyewitness reporting by survivors, much of it in recorded detail, of ethnic Albanian civilians - women, children, the elderly - rounded up for execution. Implements and places of torture discovered. Concentration camps and mass graves revealed. Western officials put the total at 10,000 lives lost in at least 100 massacres, and they expect the toll to go higher.

Military experts will debate the wisdom of NATO's airpower-only strategy, and historians will look for ways to put this violent episode into the context of Balkan history. Diplomats and scholars will try to determine whether genocide as defined under international law took place as theologians discuss the implications for "just war" theory, particularly in light of the civilian casualties inflicted by NATO bombers.

But for now, the main jobs have to be preventing further violence and supplying humanitarian aid as quickly as possible as Albanian refugees pour back into the country while frightened Serbs hasten to leave Kosovo.

It will take years, probably decades, to rebuild the country's infrastructure, to create the means for economic development, to bring indicted war criminal Slobodan Milosevic to justice, and - most challenging of all - to create the atmosphere of trust needed for civil and political stability.

The task can seem overwhelming. But there is a place to start, and it will have to begin at the most fundamental level. Seeing the uselessness of revenge, for example, and acknowledging the human rights of Serbs as well as of Albanians in Kosovo. Disarming the Kosovo Liberation Army (which apparently engaged in some terroristic acts of its own, including murder) is a necessity here.

To those of us in safe and comfortable communities, it seems almost incomprehensible that tens of thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees would be streaming back to what's left of their homes and villages, in many cases ignoring warnings of deadly landmines left behind by Serb troops.

That the pull of home and family is a force much greater than that of arms or threats is both heart-breaking and inspiring, proof of the human spirit. There is something to build on.

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