The west left the Muslims of Kosova to the Serbs’ mercy on February 23 when the threat of NATO air strikes was withdrawn at the end of 17 days of peace talks in Paris without any political agreement or sending NATO troops but with the Kosovars forced to agree to disarming. The talks ended with the two sides agreeing formally to sign an agreement at some stage in the future, although the terms of that agreement have not been laid down.
This was sufficient for western powers to claim a ‘partial success.’ The British foreign secretary Robin Cook summed it up best when he commented that ‘it has not ended in a fudge because it has not ended.’
The partial agreement reached is for the phased introduction of self-governing institutions in Kosova based on free and fair elections, the protection of human rights and the rights of members of national communities, and the establishment of a ‘fair’ judicial system. The Serbs promised to accept an ‘international presence’ to guarantee the deal, without any specific form of presence being defined.
Throughout the talks they insisted that they would not accept Nato troops, and this point appears to have been conceded. The Kosovars accepted the principle that they should disarm--in other words disband the Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA)--although their agreement is conditional on the consent of the Kosovar people. The latter point--concerning disarmament of the Kosovars--is the only substantial change from the opening of the talks.
Briefly reviewing the stages in the talks, it becomes clear that the west’s main priority was to reach some sort of a deal, however weak, in order to avoid the need to bomb the Serbs. Throughout the talks, the west emphasised the need for Serbia to accept Nato peacekeepers or face air strikes. Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic knew this and stuck to his guns that he would not accept foreign troops on any terms. On February 21, the last official day of talks, before the deadline was extended, the west announced that it could not maintain its threat of air strikes because the Kosovars had refused to disband the KLA.
Later the same afternoon, the Kosovars accepted the agreement in order to keep the west involved. The west then ended the talks and lifted the threat of air strikes even though Milosevic still refused to accept the political settlement or the Nato troops in Kosova. In effect, the Kosovars agreed to lay down their guns on the promise that the Serbs would be prevented from using theirs. The west then failed to keep this promise.
As we went to press, fighting was already increasing in Kosova as the Serbs seek to take advantage of their position in the weeks before the next conference on March 15. The Kosovars must now decide whether they can afford to pursue this western-brokered peace-process in the knowledge that the west cannot be trusted to play fairly by them.
Muslimedia: March 1-15, 1999