Release Date: January 25, 1999
Eric Margolis, c/o Editorial Department, The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5A 3X5
Fax: (416) 960-4803 -- Press Contact: Eric Margolis

NATO Stalls, And The Killing Continues

by Eric Margolis

To mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Serb paramilitary police slaughtered 45 elderly Albanian Muslims villagers in Kosovo, even taking time to mutilate the bodies and gouge out eyes.

The United States, which had blasted Muslim Iraq on the eve of Ramadan, strongly denounced Serbia. In response, Serbs ordered the chief American diplomat monitoring the supposed cease-fire in Kosova to get out. Belgrade refused entry to the chief prosecutor of the UN War Crimes Tribunal, Louise Arbour, who had come to examine Serbia's atrocity du jour.

Welcome to the latest round of Yugo-charades. NATO huffed and puffed at Serbia, threatening it with air strikes for breaking the non-cease fire in Kosovo, where Serb forces and Albanians guerrillas have been steadily skirmishing. The Serb strongman once again told NATO to go jump in the Adriatic. NATO sent a delegation to scold Milosevic, while leaking it really didn't want to attack Serbia. France and Greece, Serbia's tacit allies, kept Milosevic fully informed on NATO's deliberations. Moscow increased secret deliveries to Serbia of arms and oil. The Muslim World was too busy with Ramadan parties to even notice the tormented Muslims of Kosovo.

Milosevic took advantage of President Clinton's trial to launch his latest terror attacks against Kosovo's Albanians, who comprise 93% of the population of this rebellious Serb province. Milosevic knows just how far he can push NATO before it reacts, and is a master at pulling back at the last minute. He must have Napoleon's famed prayer on his desk: "Oh Lord, if I must make war, please make it against a coalition."

The Serb dictator's strategy is clear: keep on terrorizing Kosovo, but not enough to provoke full-scale NATO attack. Keep playing off NATO's divided members. Keep Washington convinced only it can bring peace to ex-Yugoslavia. Having risen to dictatorship by vowing to "crush the Albanians," Milosevic cannot be seen to back down without jeopardizing his hold on power. Growing internal opposition to Milosevic was underlined by his recent dismissal of the chief of staff of the Yugoslav Army, and the head of the secret police. If Kosovo decamps from rump Yugoslavia, Montenegro will follow. Milosevic, president of Yugoslavia, will be without a job.

The cease-fire in Kosovo - Kosova in Albanian - cobbled together by Washington has proven, as this column predicted, not only a total farce, but an exact repetition of the follies committed in Bosnia. The 700 truce "verifiers" sent to monitor the cease-fire, and halt Serb atrocities against Albanian civilians, are now hostages of the Serbs - just as UN "peacekeepers" in Bosnia, including Canadians, quickly became hostages of Bosnian Serbs. If NATO bombs Serbs, they threaten to seize the "verifiers," and launch attacks on NATO forces in Bosnia. Serbs understand that even if NATO does summon the resolve to use military force, the worst they can expect are limited, token attacks designed to calm public outrage in the west.

NATO has only two choices in Kosovo. Either accept ongoing Serb military repression, including massacres and ethnic cleansing. Or accept that when 93% of a state's people passionately yearn for independence and relief from brutal Serb rule, no halfway solution is possible. Kosovo's tiny Serb minority is fleeing for its life, leaving behind only the Serb military garrison and enraged Albanians.

Albanian guerrillas will sharpen their fighting skills, acquire better arms, and increase pressure on Serb forces, making their hold on Kosovo increasingly expensive and untenable. Serb massacres, atrocities, and ethnic cleansing have doomed chimerical US plans to fashion Kosovar "autonomy" within Serbia. Independence for Kosovo is inevitable. The best solution is a transition period, leading to independence, in which Serbia can save some face. Kosova should be made into a NATO protectorate, and occupied by NATO troops.

NATO's fears an independent Kosova will seek immediate unification with neighboring Albania and the ethnic Albanian regions of Macedonia, provoking a major Balkan crisis, or even regional war, are wildly overblown. Bankrupt Albania is a ward of western Europe's socialist and communist parties, who call the tune for Tirana's neo-communist regime. Macedonia has become a NATO protectorate. There is little love lost between Kosovar Albanians, who are Ghegs, and their Albanian cousins, half of whom, including the Tirana regime, are Gheg-unloving Tosks. Besides, Kosovars would be in no rush to merge with chaotic, dirt-poor, demolished Albania.

Still, NATO seems determined to maintain the status quo, even at the price of continuing Serbia's atrocities. Heavily-armed Serbia will shoot back if bombed, unlike nearly defenseless Iraq. The White House and Pentagon prefer military theatre to real warfare. Protecting Kurds and Shia from Saddam's wrath is one thing; saving Albanians from the cruelty of Milosevic quite another.

So rather than go after Milosevic, the man who destroyed Yugoslavia, supervised the murder of 252,000 victims, created 2 million refugees, and committed the worst atrocities in Europe since the Nazi era, the US and NATO have elected to stall and prevaricate, as the wise Napoleon knew all coalitions usually do. Instead, NATO delegates keep going to Belgrade to beg, cajole, and flatter Milosevic, while telling Kosovar Albanians to stop causing trouble. A pretty pathetic 50th anniversary for NATO, which can't even stop the massacre of women and children in its own backyard.

[Eric Margolis is a syndicated foreign affairs columnist and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada.]

Copyright © 1999 Eric Margolis - All Rights Reserved
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