Act Now to End Serb Repression in Kosovo

WITH an agreement reached on Bosnia, the world's attention will turn to implementation of the accord, deployment of American troops, and, hopefully, a healing process in that multiethnic republic. While it may appear that the major Balkan issues have been resolved, one critical hot spot in the former Yugoslavia has yet to be addressed.

Ethnic cleansing still continues silently in other regions controlled by Belgrade. In particular, the ethnic-Albanian majority in Kosovo is denied self-determination and endures daily human rights violations at the hands of the Serbian government. One respected human rights group recently reported that 727 Albanians were mistreated in October alone. Furthermore, in its continuing effort to colonize Kosovo, Belgrade resettled thousands of refugees of this summer's fighting with Croatia in the region's villages and towns.

The violations do not end there. Ethnic-Albanian citizens of Kosovo, who make up 90 percent of the province's population, are denied access to education, health care, and legal redress solely on the basis of their ethnicity. Others are dismissed from their jobs for the same reason.

As the Bosnian conflict comes to a close and the world begins to readmit Serbia to the community of nations, I fear that Belgrade will turn its attention toward Kosovo. We must not forget that this round of Balkan horrors was sparked by a 1989 ultranationalist speech by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic - delivered in Kosovo.

After more than five years of Serb repression and earlier American vacillation on Bosnia, the Albanian majority of Kosovo is justifiably concerned that United States policy toward the region will be set aside in some larger effort to placate the Serbs. Indeed, the administration scuttled congressional efforts to condition lifting of sanctions against Serbia upon improvements in Kosovo and denied Kosovo representation in Dayton.

These actions demonstrate little understanding of the strategic implications of a worsening situation in Kosovo. While the tragedy in Bosnia may be contained, increased Serb aggression in Kosovo will enrage Albania and the large Albanian populations in the former Yugoslav republics of Macedonia and Montenegro. This could potentially draw in other nations, including Greece, Bulgaria, and possibly Turkey.

The Bush and Clinton administrations have threatened a stern US response "in the event of conflict in Kosovo caused by Serbian action." These warnings should be reiterated by the administration at this pivotal time.

While Bosnian Serb forces outgunned the Bosnian government, the Kosovo Albanians are in an even worse position - they have no weapons and no means to defend themselves. Ibrahim Rugova, president of the republic of Kosovo, who won a democratic election that the Serbs refuse to recognize, has led a courageous Gandhi-like crusade of peaceful resistance that has gained respect around the world. But respect has done little to stem the tide of Serb oppression and will not help in the face of massive firepower.

On Jan. 4, President Clinton wrote me a letter stating that "there are a large number of issues, including Kosovo, that must be addressed before Belgrade should be freed of UN sanctions and be able to return to the international community." The recent agreement on Bosnia makes good on this pledge. It conditions lifting of what Secretary of State Warren Christopher calls the "outer wall" of sanctions (relating to international financial institutions, normalization, and other matters) upon improvements in Kosovo.

While I strongly support this step, it is insufficient to deal with the human rights violations, denial of self-determination, and the threat to international security that Kosovo poses. The situation there presents an opportunity for the West to do what it failed to do in Bosnia - develop an effective policy that contains the conflict and prevents massive loss of life. Much like our preventive diplomacy in Macedonia, a line must be drawn at Kosovo.

Rather than box ourselves into a corner, as was done in Bosnia, we can take steps to roll back Serb repression in Kosovo before it gets out of hand. These steps include:

r Stand firm on sanctions. Although the State Department undermined congressional efforts to place conditions on all sanctions, the Bosnian peace agreement ties the "outer wall" of sanctions to improvements in Kosovo. Congress must not permit any additional vacillation on this position by the administration, or the situation there will simply get worse.

r Restore an international presence. After the July 1993 expulsion of human rights monitors from Kosovo, violations increased substantially. International monitors must return immediately.

r Increase contact between the US and Kosovo. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should be supplemented by a strong US presence in the form a US Information Agency office in Kosovo's capital, as is already provided for in US law.

r Explore new sovereignty possibilities. Kosovo was formerly an autonomous region of Yugoslavia, and its future status presents diplomatic challenges very different from those in Bosnia. After half a decade of repression, however, Kosovo Albanians would be unlikely to accept a return to autonomy. At the same time, the Serbs view Kosovo as their historic birthright and will not easily relinquish control. President Rugova's peaceful campaign to realize the independent identity of his land deserves our full support.

With the US at the forefront of Balkan diplomacy, the world can put forth a Kosovo policy that stresses diplomatic solutions and respect for human rights while standing firmly against ethnic hatred and violence. In the end, Kosovo will be seen either as a model for dealing with ethnic tensions in the post-cold-war era or another lost opportunity on the path to a wider war in Europe. The first alternative is clearly preferable.

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