THE deputy head of the United Nations forces in the Balkans, Cedric Thornberry, warned recently that the crisis in Kosovo, where Albanians comprise 92 percent of the population and the Serbians rule through apartheid, is potentially more dangerous than current fighting in Bosina-Herzegovina.
The observation may seem strange to some, since international media attention for the last year has focused on the atrocities of Serbian "ethnic cleansing" against Muslims in Bosnia.
However, for three years human rights leaders have identified Kosovo, a formerly autonomous province and one of the original eight constituent units of former Yugoslavia, as the site of brutal forms of repression of 2.2 million Albanians by a handful of Serbs who control the military.
In 1989, Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic revoked Kosovo's autonomous status and launched his "ethnic cleansing" campaign, long before the first Muslim villages were attacked in Bosnia. Since then, the people of Kosovo have lived under a reign of terror, intimidation, abuse, beatings, and killings at the hands of the Belgrade regime, which has imposed martial law on our country.
Serbian authorities have abrogated virtually all of the Albanians' human, civil, and national rights. Martial law has closed Albanian-language schools and the university; severely limited access to health care for Albanians, since Albanian physicians were summarily fired; and led to 80 percent unemployment among Albanians, who were sacked because of their ethnicity. Nearly 300,000 Albanians have been forced to flee Kosovo.
In recent weeks, the Serbs have mounted a military buildup with more than 100,000 Serbian troops and heavily armed Serbian police stationed in our country. With the forced removal of Yugoslav President Cosic, the hand of the ultra-nationalist hardliners in Belgrade has been strengthened.
My government has adhered to peaceful opposition to Serbian brutality. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. However, the patience of our people is not limitless. We must be allowed to pursue our basic rights through freedom and democracy.
We have asked that the UN immediately deploy an observer mission to Kosovo, coupled with a substantial increase in the number of Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe human rights monitors now in our country. We need more outsiders inside our country to observe first-hand the degree of repression and brutality. Humanitarian assistance is needed immediately as well.
Furthermore, NATO troops should be dispatched in sufficient numbers to maintain peace as soon as possible. Serbian heavy weapons need to be placed under international control. Serbs already have installed artillery and measured trajectories.
The no-fly zone in force over Bosnia should be expanded to include Kosovo, the roving bands of Serbian paramilitary thugs should be disbanded, and Serbia's practice of colonizing Kosovo by importing Serbs from Bosnia and Montenegro should be ended.
For the longer term, the UN should declare and administer a Trust Territory of Kosovo for a few years. In the absence of any indication that Belgrade is willing to negotiate, Kosovo should be placed under UN protection with the understanding that at the end of the transition phase, the Albanians will exercise their right to self-determination. Under the trusteeship provided for in the UN Charter, Kosovo will be demilitarized while developing close economic and cultural links with its neighbors. The Serbi an minority and Serbian cultural and religious monuments will be protected.
A UN trusteeship could be difficult for Serbia to swallow, but it is one of the best solutions to the crisis Serbia has created. Belgrade must accept the fact that its continued rule over Kosovo, in which Serbs comprise only 8 percent of the population, is untenable.
If Serbia refuses to place Kosovo under a trusteeship, the UN Security Council should declare the situation "a threat to international peace and security," while designating our country a safe haven and providing protection for Kosovars by all means necessary, as provided in the UN Charter. Such powers were invoked when Iraq attacked Kurds in southern Iraq, the Khmer Rouge refused to cooperate with the peace settlement in Cambodia, as well as in the difficult situations in Somalia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
We hope the world community will adopt our approach. Either the world must stop Serbian aggression at the borders of Kosovo, or it will face a very real possibility of a wider Balkan war, which could send shock waves through Europe and Central Asia. Failure to act also would encourage ultra-nationalists elsewhere, such as the former Soviet Union, to engage in "ethnic cleansing."
The citizens of my country are unarmed, defenseless. Their only weapon is a firm commitment to freedom and democracy, with faith that the international community will act morally and courageously if our worst expectations come to pass.