The true worth of the October 13 Belgrade agreement on Kosova, by which the west supposedly extracted concessions from Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, including the withdrawal of Serbian troops from the region, under threat of NATO air strikes, was exposed just four days later.
The agreement set a 96-hour deadline for the withdrawal of troops, with US special envoy Richard Holbrooke emphasizing that the threat of NATO air strikes remained very real if Milosevic failed to meet his obligations. On October 17, as the deadline expired with no significant Serbian withdrawals, NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels extended the deadline by 10 days, to October 27.
By that time (after Muslimedia International press time), unarmed ‘verifiers’ from the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and representatives of western humanitarian aid organizations will have started arriving in Kosova, providing Milosevic with undeclared hostages against western intervention, and the west with a convenient excuse to maintain their inaction. Milosevic will continue to flout his obligations under the October 13 agreement - to which, incidentally, the Kosovars were not even a party - and the west will do nothing, citing new realities on the ground which the agreement itself establishes.
The extension of the NATO deadline confirms suspicions that establishing this position was the real objective of Holbrooke’s diplomatic exercise leading to the agreement. It was well-known that Milosevic’s promise to withdraw troops was hollow. It was also clear that if the threat of NATO air strikes was genuine, it would have to be implemented at the first sign of Yugoslav non-cooperation. The fact that NATO was so quick to change its conditions to accommodate the Serb’s flouting of them implicitly lifts the threat and gives him the green light to continue doing so with impunity. A 24-hour extension accompanied by strong words and a punitive air strike on a military base, for example, would have indicated the west means business. An unconditional 10-day extension is a cruel joke on the Kosovars.
In announcing the agreement, western leaders had emphasized the need to prevent a ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ in the region, as winter looms. Nearly 300,000 Kosovars have been driven from their homes by Serbian troops, many of them sheltering on exposed hillsides. The west will now make a major effort to persuade them to return to their ruined homes, where they will be provided with minimal food and shelter. In return, they will be expected to give up any arms they may be holding for self-defence, and to sever links with Kosovar political and other organizations which refuse to accept Serbian sovereignty over Kosova.
As was seen in Bosnia in the years before the Dayton Accord, when UN peacekeepers (a term which has been carefully avoided this time) ostensibly tried to provide humanitarian assistance without a political solution, such a formula is effectively a green light for the Serbs to continue their genocidal policies unhindered. The agreement makes four major stipulations for the Serbs: that they withdraw their troops from Kosova and return police levels to pre-March 1998 levels; they permit the presence of an unarmed, 2,000 strong, civilian OSCE force to act as ‘verifiers’, with total freedom of movement; they permit western humanitarian agencies to work in the region to relieve the suffering of the Kosovars; and they permit non-military western aircraft to overfly the region to monitor developments.
However, with the effective withdrawal of the threat of force, these stipulations are meaningless. The expectation that the Serbs will withdraw all troops and reduce police strength to pre-March levels is ludicrous. Eye-witnesses have already confirmed that even the minor withdrawals which the Serbs are staging for media and western consumption are cosmetic, with the troops merely being redeployed in different areas.
Kosovar towns which barely saw Serb policemen from one month to the next remain heavily fortified on the pretext of protecting non-existent Serbian minorities from fictional Kosovar ‘terrorists’. In Bosnia, Serbian troops fought disguising themselves as local militias or civilians. In Kosova, they will be re-invented as policemen or local Serbs. Nothing will change.
Two thousand unarmed civilians will be able to do nothing to protect the Kosovars from continued Serb aggression and oppression, and will be more concerned to protect themselves and western humanitarian agencies. In truth, they will not even be able to do their job of monitoring the situation. Despite Serb promises of co-operation, they will in reality only be able to go where the Serbs permit them to go, and see what the Serbs permit them to see.
And, at the slightest hint of a threat to any westerner, they will leave the Kosovars to their fate, or even - as was seen in Bosnia - help the Serbs against the Kosovars in the name of maintaining co-operation and good relations with the stronger party. In Bosnia, western troops considered the Serbs to be fellow westerners, and thus, reasonable people while the Bosnians were Muslims and therefore automatically suspect. The same can be expected in Kosova, especially as the Russians - traditional allies of the Serbs - form a large part of the force. In effect, Kosova is now occupied by a joint western-Serbian force with a common interest in suppressing Kosovar aspirations to independence.
As in Bosnia a few years ago, western humanitarian support will come with a high political price tag for Kosovar aspirations to independence from Serb rule. Despite its avowed sympathy for the Kosovars’ aspirations, the west is determined not to permit the emergence of an independent Kosovar State, a point which Holbrooke must have assured Milosevic of during their talks. Although Holbrooke denied Milosevic’s claim that he accepted Kosova as ‘Serbia’s southern province’, his emphasis on the need to reach a ‘political solution’ to the problem is shorthand for saying a solution by which Kosova remains within Serb-dominated federal Yugoslavia.
In pursuit of this ‘political solution’, the west will decide who they consider the most appropriate leader of the Kosovars for their purposes, and bolster his position in order to build his credibility among the Kosovar people. Here, they will benefit from the political incoherence of the Kosova Liberation Army (KLA). It is still not clear whether Adem Demaci, long established as Kosova’s senior dissident and now the KLA’s political spokesman, leads the movement or follows it. Either way, all politicians who maintain the demand for total independence will be marginalised and emphasis placed on those who agree to follow the western agenda of keeping Kosova within Yugoslavia, and preferably within Serbia.
Western hopes in this regard rest with Ibrahim Rugova, Kosova’s pacifist president who has lost credibility since the war began. He also calls for total independence but the west hopes he will prove ‘pragmatic’ and ‘realistic’ in order to avert further bloodshed. He was barely consulted during Holbrooke’s talks with Milosevic and was not party to the October 13 agreement.
The political process, in the framework of the joint western-Serbian occupation of Kosova, is likely to be similarly imposed on Kosova and Kosovars. Their problem is that they have little option but to play along and make the best of a desperately bad situation.
Muslimedia: November 1-15, 1998