Kosovars’ rights abandoned as west does a deal with Milosevic

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Iqbal Siddiqui

Rabi' al-Awwal 02, 1420 1999-06-16


by Iqbal Siddiqui (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1420)

NATO’s 11-week war with Yugoslavia over Kosova appeared finally to have ended on June 10, when its Secretary General Javier Solana suspended military operations saying that alliance intelligence sources had verified that Yugoslavia troops had begun to withdraw from Kosova. Later the same day, the UN Security Council formally approved the political settlement proposed by NATO and its allies, and took over responsibility for west’s Kosova policy.

The cease-fire announcement came barely 12 hours after NATO and Yugoslav military officers finalised a withdrawal schedule after several days of negotiations following Milosevic’s agreement to a political settlement exactly a week earlier, on June 3. That settlement, which had supposedly laid down a strict seven-day deadline for the withdrawal to be completed, provided the framework for a political and military settlement, the details of which are still emerging as we go to press. In theory, the bombing could start again if the Serbs do not pull out on schedule. In practice, this is virtually impossible as NATO leaders, having been desperate to stop the war, are unlikely to agree to re-start it.

This week’s events are a perfect example of what Kosovars can look forward to: the Serbs will use every trick in the book to manipulate any agreement in their favour, while the west is too weak, to divided, and too desperate to move on from a war they expected to last only days, to stand up to them. Every western retreat will be presented for public consumption as a triumph in the face of desperate Serbian obstructionism. Mean-while, the needs and rights of Kosovars -- the weakest party in the dealings -- will be ignored.

The June 3 agreement laid down a strict seven-day deadline for the Yugoslav withdrawal to be completed. Instead, Milosevic’s generals took the full week to agree to the withdrawal at all, and won other key concessions in the process. After the first agreement, NATO insisted that bombing would continue until the Serbian withdrawal was irreversible; the Serbs would have to leave a 25km arms free ‘buffer zone’, and that the deadline and the terms were non-negotiable. Instead, after five days of talking, the deadline was extended, the verification effectively dropped, the bombing suspended virtually immediately, and the buffer zone reduced to 5km. Still, NATO publicly maintained that the terms of the June 3 agreement had not been negotiated, only the logistics discussed.

As so often in the past, the west is demonstrating that creating the public impression of doing the right thing is more important than actually doing it. As a beginning to relations between the west and Serbia over the administration of post-war Kosova, it does not bode well for the Kosovars.

The terms of the political agreement signed by Milosevic and the west on June 3 were heavily weighted in Yugoslavia’s favour, despite NATO claims to have imposed them on him. Most notably, the Kosovars’ political right to a referendum on the future status of their country, which they had been promised by the west when they signed up to the Rambouillet agreement in March, was dropped. This is the clearest possible sign that the Kosovars’ situation, after years of persecution by the Serbs and almost three months of intense genocide, is not a significant factor in the west’s thinking.

The agreement was reached after several days of intense negotiations between US assistant secretary of state Strobe Talbott, representing NATO, Russian special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Finnish president Maarti Ahtisaari representating the EU. (Ahtisaari had originally been brought into the talks by the Russians, before being adopted by the EU.)

Officially, the talks were between the western allies, to decide an ultimatum to be put to Milosevic; officials were at pains to emphasise that there was no question of dealing with Milosevic. However, Talbott told a telling story after the deal had been reached, apparently without realising its implications. The key meeting, he said, took place in private between the the three men in Moscow. At the beginning of the meeting, Chernomyrdin had pulled a fourth, empty chair to the table and told the others to imagine Milosevic was with them and needed to be satisfied with the outcome. At no stage were the Kosovars involved, or even a chair pulled up for them. It takes no great perception to understand that the Russians were effectively representing Milosevic in the talks.

The briefest examination of the agreement, moreover, reveals that the Russians did their allies proud, even before it is re-negotiated in implementation. The first 2 clauses refer to an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal before bombing can be stopped; we have already seen the value of this.

Clauses 3 and 4 allow the stationing of international civilian and military authorities in Kosova under a UN mandate. This effectively brings Russia on board as a permanent member of the security council, ensuring Yugoslavia a say in all decisions. NATO officials have claimed that this is cosmetic, and NATO will be in charge really.

Clause 5 allows for the establishment of a ‘provisional administration’ for Kosova, by which the Kosovars will ‘enjoy’ autonomy within Yugoslavia. This is a blow to the Kosovars; after all that has happened they are still denied even a referendum. In effect, the agreement guarantees Yugoslav sovereignty over Kosova.

Clause 6 allows for an ‘agreed’ number of Yugoslav and Serbian personnel to return to Kosova after the withdrawal to liaise with international forces, clear minefields and guard the Serbian national heritage in Kosova; in other words, the withdrawal will not be total; the Serbs will still stay in areas they define as being of national significance.

Clause 7 is for the ‘safe and free’ return of refugees and free access for humanitarian organizations to Kosova. The question of whether the refugees will have any homes to come home to is not raised, nor is the question of how the return of refugees will be supervised.

Clause 8 sidelines the Rambouillet agreement, thus ruling out a referendum, and further states that the KLA will be demilitarised. These are both major victories for the Serbs. It also specifies ‘self rule’ for Kosova without defining the phrase. That is presumeably left for Kosova’s rulers the Serbsto determine.

Clauses 9 and 10 concern Yugoslavia’s neighbours and the agreement itself. Overall it can be seen that the Serbs, for all the west’s big words, clearly emerge ahead of the KLA.

The big question now is what the ‘demilitarization’ of the KLA will entail; the likely answer is that western troops will do what the Serbs have been unable to achieve: disarm the Kosovars so that in future they cannot defend themselves. If the Kosovars resist, the the Serbs may be permitted greater powers to ‘maintain order’.

The ‘shadow state’ infrastructure established over the last decade by Rugova’s shadow state has been shattered, as has Rugova’s personal credibility. Hisham Thaci, political leader of the KLA, is still speaking about independence, but the agreement secures Yugoslavia’s sovereignty. The Kosovars are left powerless and friendless again.

Muslimedia: June 16-30, 1999

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