Fighting in Kosova continued apparently unabated despite last month’s supposed ‘withdrawal’ of Serbian forces after the Holbrooke-Milosevic pact of October 13 and the lifting of the threat of NATO airstrikes against the Serbs. Meanwhile, US representatives in the region launched a political offensive to force the Kosovars to accept a constitutional settlement which greatly favours the Serbs. One Kosovar commander commented that the US appeared to be acting on behalf of the Serbs while maintaining the pretense of neutrality.
Fighting was particularly heavy in the Suhareka and Klina regions. There were also reports of random artillery fire on villages in the area. Refugees returning to their homes in other parts of Kosova are still being harassed and attacked, and find their homes destroyed, looted and booby-trapped. In one case, a seven-year-old boy was killed by a sniper as he entered his village, and members of his family were wounded the next day when his burial party was fired on at his grave side.
The Prishtina-based Council for the Defence of Human Rights and Freedoms (CDHRF), a Kosovar monitoring group, said on November 7 that it had the names of 172 people killed in October, despite the pact, and that many more remained to be identified. This figure includes 55 civilians summarily executed after being arrested. The CDHRF also registered 343 cases of people who have been taken hostage and 394 others arrested.
This level of continuing Serb atrocities against the Kosovars, despite the west’s much-vaunted peace deal, is hardly surprising when one realizes that the supposed withdrawal of Serbian forces in fact involved the redeployment of only 4,100 troops, and that more than 25,000 remain in place. This is because the pact did not demand a total withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosova, as was the impression given in the west, but only that troop numbers should be reduced to their level in March, before the Serb campaign was launched. Moreover, it was left to the Serbs themselves to define this unspecified figure.
Despite the continuing Serb operations, however, the threat of NATO airstrikes was lifted at the expiry of the October 27 deadline for ‘withdrawals’. The west’s focus has now shifted on the one hand to the provision of ‘humanitarian aid’, which is a long-established pretext for inaction on other fronts, and on the other hand (more quietly) to forcing a political settlement on the Kosovars.
Having created the fiction of a Serb withdrawal, the west now blames the continuing fighting on the Kosovars. The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) was accused of ‘taking advantage’ of the Serbs’ withdrawal, at the risk of provoking further fighting. Western politicians and military commanders in the region emphasized that, in the words of a US State department spokesman on October 27, the KLA ‘have to abide by the cease-fire and meet their obligations.’ The Kosovars were not involved in the talks leading to the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal, nor were they a party to the agreement, and therefore have made no obligations under it.
However, the Kosovars are the weakest party in the conflict, and the US clearly feels it can impose a settlement on them. Early this month, Chris Hill, US ambassador to Macedonia, who is the US’s chief envoy to the region, visited Belgrade and Prishtina to meet representatives of Milosevic and Rugova governments. He accompanied president Rugova on a high-profile tour of Kosovar villages on November 3, evidently to demonstrate unofficial US recognition of the Kosovar Democratic League (LDK) as the Kosovars’ legitimate representatives.
By contrast, his meeting with representatives of the KLA at Dragobilj on November 6 was described by Reuters as ‘secretive talks... [held in a] cloak-and-dagger atmosphere.’ While the KLA emphasized the importance of the meeting, saying that it indicated the US recognises their role in the issue, Hill did not even acknowledge officially that the meeting had taken place.
Hill’s declared objective was to discuss an ‘interim political settlement’ on the basis of the Holbrooke-Milosevic Pact. For this, he needs Kosovar political leaders who will be willing to compromise in the interests of peace, which is clearly why he has chosen to promote Rugova, despite the fact that his traditionally pacifist approach has been largely exposed as ineffective. However, Rugova’s personal credibility remains high, and it is this credibility on which the US is counting.
Washington’s determination to impose some sort of settlement is, of course, not based on altruistic or humanitarian considerations. Rather, Kosova, like Bosnia, is simply too high-profile a conflict to be ignored. Washington cannot afford to appear impotent in Europe, or to ignore the plight of a white people the way it routinely ignores similar problems in Asia and Africa. Moreover, a political success in Kosova, dealing with a leader, Milosevic, who has already proved amenable to US assistance in Bosnia, can only be good for the Democrats as a distraction from domestic problems.
The problem for the Kosovars is that the US is more concerned with a settlement than with justice. If anything, Washington shares Serbia’s determination that Kosova should not be permitted any prospect of independence, or even self-determination, for fear of the geo-political consequences in the rest of the Balkan region. The result is that the political terms of the Holbrooke-Milosevic Pact - which Hill is now trying to force on the Kosovars - amount to little more than a sop to the Serbs, in return for their going along with the pretense of a military withdrawal to enable the US to claim some hollow diplomatic triumph.
Far from offering Kosovars a referendum on independence, as they desire, the pact does not even restore them to the effectively autonomous position within Serbia which they enjoyed under Yugoslavia’s 1974 Constitution, until the autonomy was revoked by Milosevic in 1989. Instead, it suggests a nominal autonomy with most genuine authority still exercised in Belgrade, and allows only those areas of government which Belgrade chooses to be controlled by local authorities in Prishtina, such as education and health. This, as Kosovar leaders have been quick to point out, affords the Kosovars no degree of local democracy or self-determination, and no security whatsoever against future Serb abuses.
Unfortunately, it is all that is on offer. If Rugova refuses to dance to Washington’s tune, the alternative may be that the Kosovars are blamed for destroying the prospects of a peace settlement and the Serbs given a green light to resume their genocidal operations without further restrictions. The options facing the Kosovars are limited, and genuine friends or allies nowhere to be found.
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1998