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Troubles in Kosovo

March 15, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: And for more on the troubles in the Balkans, we turn to Sonja Biserko, senior fellow at the United States institute of peace and chair of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Yugoslavia; John Hulsman, research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and author of “A Paradigm for the New World Order”; and Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “Winning Ugly: NATO’s War to Save Kosovo.”

Well, guests, this area of the world is in the papers, it disappears, gets quiet for a while and then flares up. Why this latest fighting, Sonja Biserko?

SONJA BISERKO: Well, I would say that people in the region have learned so far that only through conflict they catch the attention. And I’m afraid that Albanians in the South of Serbia have been neglected over the last ten years because minority issues may now have become more political issue in the former Yugoslavia because of mostly… mostly because of the intolerance of the newest head of state. And regarding the Albanian minority in the South of Serbia, for ten years it was completely I would say in some sort of limbo situation. And after the intervention, their situation deteriorated even more because of very massive presence of military dislocated from Pristina and paramilitary and very strong forces of police. And this was going on for three years, especially during the Milosevic regime, but I’m afraid that the new regime, new government, didn’t pay enough attention immediately because the issue was already burning enough and they of course took up the arms to try to attract the attention. And that’s what we have now in the region.

RAY SUAREZ: Ivo Daalder, is that a significant step, allowing Yugoslav troops to patrol that Albanian majority area?

IVO DAALDER: It is really because what KFOR and NATO are basically saying is that this part, which is Albanian dominated in terms of population, can now be returned back to Serb hands under Serb police and Serb military forces and without any guarantee that the kind of activities we have seen Serbian forces do in Kosovo will not take place here. What happens if in fact a village is emptied forcefully in the way that we have seen this many, many times before?


Will NATO intervene at that point? Probably not. NATO is not even willing to intervene at this point. It would have been much better if we had had the kind of patrolling done by NATO forces working together perhaps with the Yugoslav military in order to provide some reassurance to the local population, which is either going to flee into Kosovo for fear what might happen now that the Serbs are coming back, or it will find itself at the mercy of Serb forces if– and it is an if– they misbehave. The general who was heading in with the Serb forces, it’s the same general who headed up the Yugoslav army when the atrocities happened in Kosovo in ’98 and ’99.

RAY SUAREZ: Is this a big opportunity for the Yugoslav army to show that they are no longer an enemy but now perhaps a partner?

JOHN HULSMAN: Absolutely. I think one of the things that’s changed that has to be really stressed is that President Kostunica has come and he’s not just Milosevic. I agree with you on the time frame. But let’s look — these people have been in a very short period of time. He’s said a lot of things particularly in Southern Serbia that to westerners that sound quite reasonable. He hasn’t acted disproportionately when there have been atrocities over the border or on the border. And as your report said, to a large extent this is a reward for his good behavior and this is a confidence-building measure, along with these troops going in, and I agree with you, Ivo, it is the same general. But they’ve moved back heavy armor, they’ve moved back artillery and there are monitors watching every step of the way. And I think that this could be a problem but it could also be the start of a solution.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, let’s talk a little bit about the fact that the Presevo Valley is in Serbia proper. Is this a significant difference from let’s say those same troops being allowed into Kosovo?

SONJA BISERKO: Yes. I think the problem as Ivo has mentioned is that the Albanians highly mistrust because there is a crisis of mutual trust between the two communities and this is something that has to be built on, and I’m afraid that the same people, it would be very difficult for Albanians and they already react, to accept such leadership of the army to be back in the region.

RAY SUAREZ: Will the cease-fire hold, you think?

SONJA BISERKO: Well, this is something that’s difficult to anticipate, but I hope that enough effort and messages from the KFOR and the rest will come strong enough to convince people in the region to really embark on the negotiations and dialogue.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, over the border from Kosovo, there sits Macedonia — outwardly some of the same players but a different situation. John Hulsman?

JOHN HULSMAN: Yes, it’s different. Macedonia has managed to avoid war up until now, and Macedonia – if you’re going to look at an example of a multiethnic state in the region working, you pick Macedonia. As you said, about a third of the people in the country are ethnic Albanian, but some of those people have been involved in actually governing — and there has been a real attempt made, although not a perfect one, to address some of their needs and concerns. And one of the great fears is a symbolic fear, but here’s an example of a country in the region by and large who’s done the things that we in the West think are good; they’re multiethnic and they’re tolerant and they’re making efforts at least to address minority concerns. And to have some of these former KLA fighters cross this border in an attempt to destabilize, as you say, either create a Greater Albania, which is a possibility, or just to get more rights, it’s not exactly clear what they want — is a real threat to the whole idea of multiethnic harmony in the region; there’s no doubt about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, today, Ivo Daalder, the American representative in Pristina, in Kosovo, warned Albanian militias in Kosovo not to make links with their Albanian brothers in Macedonia. Is that too late? Can that be an effective move?

IVO DAALDER: Well, it’s important that the United States emphasizes to those people in Kosovo not to provide the kind of support that they are providing, have provided to the rebel and extremist forces inside Macedonia. Arms are going from Kosovo into Macedonia and they’re being shipped that way. But we need to do more. We need to cut off the border to the maximum extent possible. This is the U.S. sector… we’re patrolling the border between Kosovo and Macedonia in this region. We need to try to cut off as much of those arms supplies as possible. We need to try to get our hands on the arms caches that are inside Kosovo.

We know there are arms. We probably also know some areas where they are; we need to take control of them. And third, we ought to have a statement by the United States, by NATO, possibly even by the UN Security Council at the highest level that we will stand behind Macedonia. We’re in favor of its sovereignty, we want to secure its stability, we will assist the security forces to take care in whatever possible way of these extremists, but we have to stand behind Macedonia. This is the powder keg that, if it blows, is in fact going to lead to the unraveling of the region with regard to Greece and Bulgaria. The whole thing hangs on Macedonia. We’ve had a tremendous success, as John said, in Macedonia for the last ten years. To see it unravel because we’re just not willing at this point to stand behind would be a disaster.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree, Sonja Biserko, that these problems can’t be taken care of individually, that trouble in one place automatically means trouble in the other?

SONJA BISERKO: Yeah, I believe so because the issues that Albanians are raising now in Macedonia could be solved through dialogue, as my previous speakers have mentioned, the situation in Macedonia was really different from others, and they managed to preserve the multiethnic society… where it is appropriate to the highest level. This is not a problem at the moment, but I think there is space for Albanians and Macedonians to continue through dialogue to come up to higher standard of the Albanian minority in Macedonia.

RAY SUAREZ: Now, in the time we have left, people who are watching this region are… Sonja, you talked about it certainly in the United States– wondering how the U.S. disengages, gradually, when it does, if it can. It certainly this week didn’t look like it’s time to go or even think about going. John Hulsman?

JOHN HULSMAN: Well, I think it’s important not to get caught in mission creep either, and here I think I disagree with my colleagues. I think it’s important to look at what is our goal in the region – to go back to first principles. It’s time for some creative thinking again and get beyond the stale old arguments about what we’re doing there. And I agree very strongly that a regional approach is the way forward, that we need to look at things we can do at a regional level, instead of focusing as you say every couple of months this comes up and we get a crisis in Kosovo or Macedonia, or Bosnia, and we don’t see the interrelationship – and we don’t see what needs to be done regionally both through trade and through diplomacy. I am wary though of saying this is a primarily military problem. And I would agree with the Vice President who said during the campaign we shouldn’t just commit military troops when we can’t think of anything else to do in a difficult situation.


RAY SUAREZ: Ivo, CBS News has reported that the United States is ready to make its first withdrawal from Bosnia. It hasn’t been confirmed yet, but the report is being picked up and commented upon. How long does the U.S. mission now look to last into the coming years, not only in Bosnia, but everywhere else in the neighborhood?

IVO DAALDER: We’re committed to the region, to the stability by the fact that we’re there, we’ve been there for five years. And the way we get out is to get the job done. And the way to get the job done is to encourage moderate forces to come to power and to take control, as is happening in Kosovo, and to deal with those very small elements that remain, particularly in the Albanian parts but also in parts of Bosnia, to deal with them straight forward and directly. We should take them on if they cause the kind of problems that are happening right now. There is indeed to a large extent, as John says, an economic and diplomatic and political component that needs to do the job that is necessary to get stability in the region. But the way… the best way to do is to have an American and NATO military presence there, to provide the stability and to have that presence as long as it is necessary for the stability to emerge internally. Will that take many years? Yes, it will take many years. But if you don’t stay, if you withdraw, the best economic, the best political measures are not going to be able to work and you’ll see the region fall back into the kind of disaster we saw in the early 1990s.

RAY SUAREZ: Guests, thank you all very much.