Kosovo: Toward a Solution

The puzzle that is Kosovo got more complicated with the indictment last week of Slobodan Milosevic by the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal. Since then, Mr. Milosevic has indicated he's ready to accept a vaguely worded version of NATO's peace demands. Also since then, more Albanian refugees have flowed out of Kosovo - and refugees awaiting placement in the US have told the Monitor they want to go home, but not to a Kosovo still tied to Belgrade.

Meanwhile, NATO bombing has intensified, with ever-mounting reports of tragic "collateral damage."

To sort all this out, let's consider these elements one at a time:

*The tribunal's action. The legal and moral justifications for bringing Milosevic to account for his actions are clear. The evidence for such charges as forced deportation and mass murder grows with each wave of refugees. The military and diplomatic effects of the tribunal's action, however, are far from clear. Will Milosevic feel more cornered than ever, and opt to hold out militarily against all odds? Or will he be pushed to end the conflict more quickly in hopes at least of holding onto power in Serbia?

*Diplomatic action. NATO faces the tough question of how to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Kosovo conflict with a man who stands indicted as a war criminal. Yet Milosevic's acceptance of the G-8 framework suggests a way must be found to do just that. The G-8 framework, put together by the leading industrial nations and Russia, leaves open crucial details such as the makeup of an international peacekeeping force and the extent of Yugoslav withdrawal from Kosovo. NATO should negotiate the details, but it can't give ground on its participation in the peacekeeping force. Nothing less will ensure protection for returnees.

*Refugees' concerns. It's not surprising many Kosovar Albanians would have no inclination to go back to a home still under Milosevic's administration. The final status of Kosovo will be a matter of extensive negotiation. Vigorous autonomy, with international guarantees of security, is the immediate goal. Kosovars will have to be convinced that option will prevent renewed opression.

*The bombing. This military policy remains the only one that NATO can unite around. But its costs - moral and political - are growing. A singular focus on military targets, along with the gathering of ground forces on Kosovo's borders, should be NATO's policy. It's the best, most morally defensible way of maintaining pressure on Milosevic.

To sum up, the war crimes indictment is something of a wild card. But it ought to (1) push Milosevic toward a settlement and (2) strengthen NATO's determination to make that settlement one that fulfills the basic goal of returning the refugees to an environment that ensures their safety and a large measure of self-determination.

Kosovo's puzzle can, and must, be solved.

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