WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Serbian President Milosevic has won the first round. The issue now is will NATO persevere, or will Mr. Milosevic win the war?
About half the Kosovo population of 2 million has been uprooted since February 1998, and about 500,000 in the past two weeks since US President Clinton told reporters "Our purpose here is to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe."
Now the Macedonians, as NATO watches, are busy completing the ethnic cleansing begun by Mr. Milosevic. The Kosovars are being forcibly deported from the border camps to destinations not of their choosing.
"Under the cover of darkness on Monday night, 1,491 refugees were flown out of Skopje airport on 10 flights," reported Andrew Buncombe of The Independent today, and "all but one of which were heading for Turkey. When one refugee tried to run away he was frog-marched on board by security men. Yesterday morning another 600 refugees were flown out of the Macedonian capital - all bound for the same destination."
"No one would tell seven- year-old Ardita Berisha why she was being forced out of a country at gunpoint for the second time in a week," reported Daniel McGrory of The Times. Ardita "kept asking where they were going as an armed policeman shoved her into an airport bus, deporting the Berishas and 1,500 other confused refugees to Turkey yesterday."
"Rabia, her mother, began to cry and asked a security guard how her husband was meant to find them as he was stranded somewhere in Kosovo. The guard, his face partially covered by a surgical mask, shouted at her to do as she was told."
Mr. Milosevic has won the first round - ethnic cleansing. Rounds two (return of the Kosovars to their homes), three (independence for Kosovo), and four (bringing Mr. Milosevic to trial for war crimes) have yet to be fought, and Mr. Milosevic has just upped the ante.
Today, Yugoslavia sealed off Kosovo's main border crossings. "German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping warned that the Yugoslavs may be planning to use the civilians in Kosovo as 'human shields' against NATO attack," reported George Jahn of Associated Press.
This is bound to complicate matters for NATO which has yet to commit the troops and weapons needed to help the Kosovars on the ground. And the forced deportation of the Kosovars to distant destinations will diminish the TV coverage which served to mobilize public support for NATO action.
Will NATO persevere, or will rounds rounds two, three, and four, also go to Mr. Milosevic? Despite the genuine concern of average citizens, the Kosovar Muslims have become a pawn in a deadly superpower game. NATO credibility, on the eve of its April 23 celebration of its 50th anniversary, is the prize.
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