Response in Kosovo

Troops under the command of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic have again forced the hand of the international agencies trying to ward off renewed bloodshed in the Balkans. Faced with a massacre of 45 ethnic Albanian civilians in Kosovo, what are NATO, the UN, the US, Britain, and others involved in peacekeeping going to do?

Last October, through extraordinary American diplomacy, Mr. Milosevic agreed to a cease-fire. He also agreed to limit his troops' presence in the largely Albanian province of Serbia, and to begin talks with independence-minded Kosovars.

It has since become clear, however, that neither side in the Kosovo conflict is using the agreement as a basis for peace. Guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), rearmed and better organized, have persistently sniped at the Yugoslav (i.e., Serb) forces, killing some, taking others hostage.

At the same time, Milosevic's troops have returned to Kosovo in force, violating the October pact. They are determined, apparently, to avenge KLA attacks on their comrades. The stage is set for excesses of violence and cruelty on the scale of Bosnia.

But firm international action must prevent that. NATO officials should leave no doubt that if Milosevic's troops don't cease their murderous forays into Albanian villages, NATO air strikes will commence.

Meanwhile, Milosevic has ordered the expulsion of the head of the international monitoring mission in Kosovo, American William Walker. Mr. Walker confirmed the massacre near the village of Racak and blamed Serb forces. Milosevic also closed Kosovo's borders to the chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal on war crimes, who wanted to investigate the killings. These moves must be vigorously opposed.

Both sides in Kosovo have to be turned back toward the negotiations envisioned in October. To aid that process, those who supported the agreement, led by the US, need to offer a clearer vision of a reasonable outcome: either a genuinely autonomous Kosovo within what remains of Yugoslavia, or eventual independence.

Most of all, Serbs and Albanians must be made to realize that all-out fighting will yield nothing but misery.

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