The bodies of six murdered Kosovars were found in different locations in the country on February 8, the day after ‘proximity’ peace talks between the Serbs and Kosovars began in France. They included a 20-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl found together in Djakovica, 45 miles south-west of Pristina; both bodies were riddled with bullets. The four other bodies were found in separate locations. At least two were of Kosovar men who had previously been reported missing, presumably arrested by Serb authorities.
Two days earlier, three Kosovar businesses had been bombed. Three Kosovars – a man, a woman and a teenage girl – were killed in Pristina on February 6, when a bomb exploded in a grocery store, and two restaurants in separate towns in northern Kosova were also bombed the same day.
Clearly, then, it was business as usual for the Serbs in Kosova, even as representatives of the two sides were ensconced at the Chateau le Rambouillet outside Paris, for Dayton-style proximity talks conducted under the supervision of the US ambassador to Macedonia, and envoy on Kosova, Chris Hill. The talks officially began on February 7 (February 6 having been retrospectively declared ‘Day Zero’), and were continuing as Crescent International went to press. Few details were emerging, despite heavy press interest and speculation as to the proceedings.
The talks were announced the previous week, following the high-profile Serbian atrocities in Račak and Rakovina in late January. (The bodies of 40 of the 45 Kosovar civilians were finally released to their families for burial on February 10, nearly a month after the massacre.) After a last minute hitch caused by the Serbs’ refusal to permit Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) representatives to board an aircraft at Pristina airport, the talks were inaugurated by French president Jacques Chirac on February 5. Two days later, the two delegations reportedly agreed to accept 10 basic principles on the future of the province, but details were not revealed. A western mediator’s comment that ‘the devil is in the details’ was widely quoted.
The details in question include Kosova’s constitutional status in the immediate future. The Kosovars hope that this will be for an interim period leading to a referendum; this is a point they have already conceded, from their initial demand for an immediate referendum. The Serbs demand a final settlement, by which Kosova is confirmed as a permanent part of Serbia.
The nature of political, legal and security institutions are also crucial. The Kosovars want to be effectively self-governing on a democratic basis, in which their massive demographic advantage would be decisive. The Serbs have suggested a communal system in which all communities have equal status, regardless of numbers, with Belgrade pulling the strings.
Serbia also insists that police and security apparatus remain under its control, while the Kosovars would prefer to take these over themselves, at least for internal law and order matters. It has been suggested in some quarters that the KLA could become Kosova’s police force; the KLA, of course, would prefer to be the military force of an independent Kosova. These are just some of the many details on which any agreement is likely to be very difficult to find.
On February 10, Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is not attending the talks, issued a belligerent statement from Belgrade warning that the talks would fail if the Kosovars refused to issue a pledge renouncing all aspirations to independence. The same day, KLA issued a statement in Pristina saying that its ultimate aim remained a referendum on independence, and that a formal cease-fire, to be signed by both sides and guaranteed by a third party, was essential before further progress can be made.
The two positions seemed to confirm reports from western mediators who are shuttling between the parties -- who are not meeting with each other face to face-- that their respective demands remain irreconcilable. However, experience does show that what is said in public and what happens behind closed doors are often very different.
Unfortunately, any differences are likely to be to the Kosovars’ disadvantage. As in the case of the Bosnian talks between 1992 and 1995, Milosevic is the key to progress. The fact that he is not in Paris is itself a bad sign. Officially, the delegations there have full authority to reach an agreement. However, the composition of the Yugoslav delegation, which is headed by Serbian prime minister Ratko Markovic, consists largely of minority politicians and others sent for show, and they have made clear that any agreement would have to be approved by Belgrade. This is a typical way of extracting further benefits after an agreement has supposedly been reached, regularly seen in Bosnia, and used also by the zionists in the Palestine ‘peace talks.’
This sort of strategy reflects Milosevic’s expertise in manipulating the political process to his advantage. In disputes of all levels, it is often the most amoral and aggressive party that has the advantage, simply because their is no limit to what they are willing to do. The victims, on the other hand, tend to enter such proceedings in good faith, and are thus at a natural disadvantage.
Milosevic needs some sort of a settlement in Kosova, preferably with the legitimacy of an internationally mediated agreement, and so will most probably reach a deal eventually. But he knows he is in a position of strength, and that the west will find it easier to pressure the Kosovars than him, and therefore he is likely to try to make the process as drawn out as possible, trying to score political points and wringing concessions from the west and the Kosovars alike, along the way. Quite possibly, one or more rounds of talks will ‘fail’ or end in stalemate on ‘points of principle’ which Milosevic refuses to concede before he is bribed to come back to the table by further concessions.
The west, for its part, also needs a settlement. It cannot afford to walk away leaving the Kosovars to their fate. It deliberately gives the impression of being a benevolent and disinterested outsider, concerned only with achieving peace. But its threats to use Nato aircraft against Serbia, which it would desperately want not to have to do, have painted it into a corner.
It needs a settlement on any terms – any settlement, provided it can be presented as looking reasonable. And it knows that the easiest way to get a settlement – as in Bosnia – will be to give the Serbs what they want and to pressure the Kosovars to accept a disadvantageous deal.
The Kosovars, like the Bosnians at Dayton, are in a weak position. They have little with which to bargain, are having to deal with a vicious and totally amoral adversary, and the ‘honest broker’ is singularly dishonest. Therefore, they are open to being forced into a settlement which strongly favours the Serbs, or – possibly, if they are very reluctant to accept such a settlement – being left to the Serbs’ tender mercies.
It is now clear that the US threatened the Bosnians at Dayton to force them to accept the Accord which so amply rewarded the Serbs for their genocide. While the west puts a brave face on its altruistic efforts to police the world for the international press, the Kosovars are likely to be facing pressures inside the Chateau le Rambouillet that outsiders can hardly imagine.
Muslimedia: Feb.1-15, 1999