Five members of one Kosovar family--two adults and three children – were massacred by Serbian troops near Rakovina in southwestern Kosova on January 25. The killings came just 10 days after the murders of 45 Kosovar civilians, including women, children and elderly men, in the village of Račak, which had caused international outrage and briefly raised the threat of NATO bombings against Serbian forces again. (See the story, “Račak: anatomy of a massacre” in this issue).
After the latest killings, hower, the calls were more muted and a further effort to impose a political settlement, perhaps through ‘proximity talks’ similar to those in the US which led to the 1995 Dayton Accord, seems a more likely response. There are already signs that US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, whose last involvement in Kosova was to reach the October 12 settlement with Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, may return to the region to conduct such talks, which would probably be held in a European city.
The timing of these developments is interesting. The Račak killings took place on the morning of January 15; the Serbian attack began shortly before Fajr, while most families in the village were up for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal for fasting. They were immediately condemned in the strongest possible terms by William Walker, the American head of the western monitoring mission in Kosova, and the threat of Nato airstrikes against the Serbs raised once more.
This also coincided with the beginning of the US senate’s trial of president Bill Clinton on perjury charges. However, after Clinton’s successful and well-received ‘State of the Union’ address to the American people on January 19, which relieved the pressure on him caused by the trial, the west seemed to change tack on Kosova, rediscovering the benefits of a political settlement.
The Rakovina killings a week later were no less vicious than those in Račak. The family’s tractor and trailer were apparently attacked by a Serbian armoured personnel carrier. It was riddled with over 300 bullets, some from small arms, others from machine guns heavy enough to penetrate the tractor’s engine block. Two adults, a man and a woman, were found dead in the tractor cab, and an adult and two boys aged 10 and 12, atop a stack of cornstalks in the trailer. One child had been literally decapitated by the gunfire.
On this occasion, however, the west’s response was to emphasise that bombing would not be useful, and that a political process was the only workable way forward. At the same time, they did remind Milosevic of the possibility of bombings, but this is now recognised by all as a virtually empty threat.
Another reason for this change of tack may also have been that European countries, which are inevitably closely involved in any western action in Kosova, reacted far more strongly against the prospect of bombing Serbia, a fellow European country, than they did last year when the US’s chosen target was Iraq. Interestingly, Britain, which eagerly joined the US in bombing Iraq in December, was particularly vocal in playing down the idea of bombing Milosevic now. British foreign minister Robin Cook again emphasised that “blame lies on both sides” in the breakdown of the October agreement, a line long taken by European governments and endorsed by Nato shortly before the Račak killings.
Off record, British and other officials went further, even questioning whether the Serbs were really responsible for the Račak massacre, implying that the episode may have been set up by the Kosovars to attract international sympathy. This allegation was specifically made by the Serbs and supported by some of the European press, particularly in France. This, of course, is a strategy the British and other Europeans have used before: in 1995, British general Michael Rose accused the Bosnians of the Sarajevo market place bombing in which 64 people died, suggesting it was designed to raise provoke international action against the Serbs.
The net result is that the Serbs have been allowed to get away with yet more murders of innocent Muslims (unless Clinton’s fortunes in Washington change for the worse, in which case bombing may suddenly become a good idea, fully supported by Clinton’s lapdog Tony Blair, the British prime minister, despite the seething but helpless anger of other European countries). If anything, they may actually be rewarded, by the west putting even more pressure on the Kosovars to accept a negotiated political settlement which would favour the Serbs.
Muslimedia: Feb.1-15, 1999