June 5, 1998
CHARLES KRAUSE: The latest round of fighting in Kosovo began last week, when Serbian security forces began clearing tens of thousands of ethnic Albanians from their homes and villages inside Kosovo along the Albanian border. According to western observers, the Serb offensive is aimed at depopulating the Decani region south and west of Kosovo's capital city Pristina.
There, the Serbs reportedly hoped to create a depopulated no-man's-land along the border to try to stop the flow of weapons and other support from Albania to separatist guerrillas inside Kosovo. The guerrillas, who call themselves the Kosovo Liberation Army, have used the border area as a stronghold for their fight against Serbia for Kosovo's independence. Long resentful of Serb domination, an estimated 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million people are ethnically Albanian.
Yet, Kosovo remains a province of Serbia. The fighting has intensified since March, when the separatist guerrillas began to openly challenge Serb military forces stationed in Kosovo. UN and other western observers estimate that even before the latest defensive, fighting in Kosovo had left more than 250 dead and thousands more wounded and homeless. Since last week, the situation has worsened. There are reports of at least 50 more ethnic Albanians killed and hundreds more missing.
Meanwhile, at least 10,000 ethnic Albanians have fled from Kosovo across the border into Albania to escape the Serb offensive. The exact numbers cannot be confirmed, because the Serbs have refused to allow independent observers into the border area. But the UN says that in addition to those who've already crossed into Albania perhaps as many as another 50,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo have been forced from their villages and are hiding in nearby forests and mountainsides.
The current crisis began almost a decade ago when in 1989 Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic reasserted Serb control over Kosovo, which under the old Yugoslav republic had functioned as an autonomous region. Since then the situation in Kosovo has progressively deteriorated.
Two months ago the United States diplomatic mission, headed by Richard Holbrooke, persuaded Milosevic and Albanian Leader Ibrahim Rugova to start talks to try to prevent full-scale war. The talks began last month, but Rugova canceled yesterday's meeting because of the Serb offensive. While Albania's foreign minister warned that the situation had reached the brink of what he called open war, officials at NATO headquarters in Brussels are reportedly preparing plans to beef up western forces along Kosovo's borders with Albania and Macedonia, estimating it would take 20,000 troops to secure the region. Last week in Washington, Rugova and a delegation of ethnic Albanians met with President Clinton and other administration officials. Afterwards, they talked with reporters.
VETON SURROI, Kosovo Negotiator: We consider-I repeat-the situation in Kosovo is extremely dangerous. These are the first stages of war, and we want not only to reverse that situation to return to a position in which there could be negotiations but to-an overall manner create conditions for a future peaceful status of Kosovo with the will of the Kosovo people.
CHARLES KRAUSE: The United States has threatened to reimpose economic sanctions against Serbia as the fighting continues. Meanwhile, yesterday in Kosovo ethnic Albanians held a peaceful rally, demanding that NATO step in immediately to stop the fighting.
MARGARET WARNER: And now to Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And for more we're joined by Jonathan Landay, a reporter for the "Christian Science Monitor." He spent five years in Yugoslavia covering that country's breakup. He was last in Kosovo in April; and John Lampe, a Professor of History at the University of Maryland, his most recent book is "Yugoslavia As History." Thanks to you both for being with us. Mr. Landay, you've been covering this war for a while. Has there been a real change in the last few days with the destruction, the killings, the generation of many more refugees?
JONATHAN LANDAY, Christian Science Monitor: Absolutely. What we're seeing, as was featured in your report, I believe also is the beginning stages of a full-fledged war that-different from the other conflicts from the former Yugoslavia-has the very dangerous potential of spreading across the borders of Kosovo into Albania and into Macedonia, because Macedonia also has a very large ethnic Albanian population.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And John Lampe, do you agree that we're in a new stage of this crisis?
JOHN LAMPE, University of Maryland: I'm afraid that we are. This scenario of Kosovo exploding and spilling over into adjoining territories that we worried about ten years and eight years ago. Now, it seems to be here with the chances for negotiation and finding a way out as difficult as any as I can recall since the Second World War.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jonathan Landay, Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the UN, said today that atrocities were being committed by the Serb forces in this defensive. Are you hearing about atrocities from your contacts?
JONATHAN LANDAY: It's hard to say what's really happening on the ground, because no one's been allowed-outside observers have not been allowed in. However, all of the ingredients for very serious atrocities are there. My contacts are telling me that the Serbs are employing air power that's in the form of helicopter gunships, MiG 21 jet fighters, heavy artillery, and up to 10,000 police and troops. The tactics involve surrounding villages bombing them, going in, setting the houses on fire, and either killing the survivors, or herding them in the direction of the border with Albania, rather than allowing them to go into the interior of Kosovo, where they have friends and relatives to stay with. So that is-those are some of the ingredients. There are others, unfortunately. Mr. Milosevic, the president of Yugoslavia, is using in Kosovo some of the very same people who directed paramilitary operations in Bosnia during the war there and where there were serious war crimes committed. Those people are now down in Kosovo directing the operations there. So, yes, there is enormous potential for very serious atrocities.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Lampe, the Kosovo leaders are saying that ethnic cleansing is occurring, that what Europeans and American leaders have said they would not permit to happen again is, in fact, happening right now in Kosovo. Is that how you see it?
JOHN LAMPE: Well, I see village cleansing, that's for sure, and along this border strip.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm sorry. Is village cleansing different from ethnic cleansing?
JOHN LAMPE: I think ethnic cleansing suggests that the entire territory of Kosovo should be cleared of Albanians, and there are certainly those on the extremist Serbian side who said that. But I think this is a briefer and more limited enterprise, once again, with the Milosevic side thinking that one or two short, sharp strokes, punches to the other side will cause them to fold up or back down. That's clearly not what's happening.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Lampe, what is the goal? Charles Krause reported on the goal, but fill that out a little bit, of the offensive.
JOHN LAMPE: Well, the offensive is to clear a border strip with the Albanian border of a number of miles through which the admitted flow of Albanians from principally outside of Albania, coming through Albania, bearing weapons, and funds as well, to strengthen the KLA forces well beyond what they were to start with. Just what that strength really is, I think, is not precisely clear.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Landay, what do you know? What are your sources telling you about the strength of the guerrillas now? It's changed quite a bit recently, hasn't it?
JONATHAN LANDAY: Yes, it has. They were a fairly fringe group I would say even half a year ago. Then in February and March we had a watershed. Mr. Milosevic unleashed his police against fairly small concentrations of KLA, whereas, they are known which occur, UCK, in the interior region of Kosovo known as Dreniza. In that operation his people massacred women and children. And this, as I said, was a watershed. Suddenly, the floodgates of funds were opened from ethnic Albanians living in the United States and in Europe to the Kosovo Liberation Army. I went to Kosovo tracking that trail of funds. I started in New York, talked to the KLA sympathizers there, went to Switzerland, talked to their fund-raising mechanism, people running their fund-raising mechanism there, from there went to Kosovo and actually were taken prisoner for a day by the KLA until they believed I was who I said I was. My impression is that there's enormous amounts of passion going on. My impression is that there cannot be a political settlement along the lines of the United States is pursuing, because popular support in Kosovo is very much with the KLA. It's growing. They are disciplined. I believe they have a chain of command. They are extremely determined. One other thing that's going in their favor is the structure of ethnic Albanian society. It is a clan structure, a patriarchal society that gives discipline. It gives unity, and if I, as an ethnic Albanian, join the KLA, that means my cousins are going to, my brothers are going to, my uncles are going to. And that's what we see happening now. And that's why there is this enormous potential for a very, very serious situation that I'm afraid we are heading into now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Lampe, the Albanian foreign ministry spokesman said yesterday we appeal to NATO for help. What are NATO's options here?
JOHN LAMPE: I think the realistic option is to dispatch a NATO force to Albania, to that border region that the Albanian government and army and police have no way of controlling. Also, I think the Macedonian contingent under the UN should be increased, but on the Albanian side that contingency-that contingent would not only close off the flow of Albanians from outside Kosovo into Kosovo but it would make it clear to the Milosevic side-and this is the hope anyway-that further military actions of the sort that are now taking place have no conceivable justification. Just what the next step would be if the Milosevic side would not respond to that NATO contingent along its border I hesitate to say.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Lampe, you said in your first statements tonight that this is one of the most dangerous times that you've seen since World War II. Would NATO troops prevent it from spreading into Macedonia, do you think?
JOHN LAMPE: I think that's our best, or our least bad option, as I've said so many times in talking about Bosnia. That's our least bad option, because not only the Albanian government and Albanian population, but also an independent Macedonia really will have a hard time both surviving and then in the chaos that will result from a disintegrating Macedonia Greece and Turkey could well be involved on opposite sides. And that's the real nightmare scenario.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jonathan Landay, do you agree with that, that that's the nightmare scenario at this point?
JONATHAN LANDAY: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. What we are seeing taking place, when you look at it from a broader perspective, it goes beyond Kosovo. What we're seeing-actually I believe-is a kind of 19th century style nationalist movement. The ethnic Albanians of Kosovo, as well as those in Macedonia, and I believe many in Albania, are in a search for a national political identity. They are looking to rectify what they believe is an historic wrong that occurred at the end of World War I, which was the creation of international borders that divided them. And so once they-the Kosovo situation is dealt with-if it can be dealt with-then there has to be the sorting out of this problem, which augers even more instability, unfortunately, for the Southern Balkans. And looking at the potential for Greece and Turkey, you're looking at something-a situation that could not only reverse a lot of the Democratic changes that have taken place in Eastern Europe, of the economic progress that's been taking place, but you're looking at the very unity of the NATO alliance. If Greece and Turkey become involved, the Transatlantic Alliance is at stake here.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that-is that your view too, Mr. Lampe?
JOHN LAMPE: I'm not sure that the NATO alliance as a whole-but any kind of warfare between Greece and Turkey would clearly be the most serious blow to that alliance-in its history-threaten a democratic government that's underway in Bulgaria now, and leave a region that is vital to the economic and other security interests of all of Europe, the Southeast European area, in a more desperate situation than the Bosnian crisis has already cause.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Thank you both very much for being with us.