The NATO summit which took place in Washington from April 23-26 ended with a typically western fudge. After weeks of strong words against Slobodan Milosevic’s government regarding the genocide of Kosova’s Muslims, the Alliance concluded their 50th Anniversary session by authorising Russia to seek a mediated settlement to its war with Yugoslavia.
This came as no great surprise, for it had long been clear that the US in particular was reluctant to back up its hard words with real action. Everyone knew from the outset that Milosevic could not be prevented from expelling and massacring the people of Kosova by air-power alone; the west’s repeated insistence that it would not commit ground troops to helping them was effectively a greenlight to Milosevic. It also confirmed Milosevic’s instinct - shared by many other observers - that the west would crack first, and seek a compromise settlement, if Milosevic stuck the bombing out. The west’s refusal to put ground troops in unless it was part of a post-war settlement agreed by Milosevic was not unexpected in itself. Western soldiers’ reluctance to die, and western countries’ reluctance to take losses, has been amply demonstrated in recent years, to the point that some commentators are suggesting that the US can never fight another conventional war. More disappointing - though perhaps also not surprising - has been the west’s steadfast refusal to help the Kosovars to defend their own country and people.
The Kosova Liberation Army (KLA) has developed into a formidable fighting force in the year since the Serbian assault on Kosova began in March 1998. It has had considerably success as a guerilla army over the last few months. But it has suffered greatly in the Serbs’ latest, massive assault on Kosova. Its lightly armed troops were no match for the Serbs’ armoured brigades and motorised infantry once the Serbs decided to use them in force. Many KLA troops have also left their units to find and help their own families - a disadvantage of a peoples’ army fighting on home soil. The fact that many Kosovar men are enlisting in the KLA in Albania as a response to having been driven from their homes is little compensation for the loss of trained, experienced troops operating inside Kosova.
Despite these problems, the KLA has acquitted itself well after early setbacks under the Serbs’ initial onslaught. As well as the estimated 750,000 Kosovar refugees who have left the country, an estimated 800,000 have been displaced within Kosova. Many of these are in parts of the country where they are under the protection of the KLA, which has succeeded in holding certain enclaves.
Areas within Kosova where there are large concentrations of refugees include the Llap valley area above Podujevo in the north-east of the country; areas north of Pec in the west of the country; the Drenica region west of Pristina, in central Kosova; the Lapusnik area south of Drenica; the Djakovica area in the southwest of the country (close to the Albanian border); the Pagarusa and Suva Reka areas; and the area south of Urosevac, where homeless people have been deliberately herded by Serbian troops. The KLA is only able to protect and assist a small number of these people. In many areas, conditions are so bad that people are eating grass. Mass starvations have also been reported. Nonetheless, the KLA presence (and, in some areas, the presence of small armed groups not affiliated to the KLA) has been of some assistance. The tragedy is that the west has made great play of helping the refugees arriving in Macedonia and Albania, while refusing to take any substantive steps to help those inside Kosova. Even the idea of launching food airdrops to help people living rough on Kosova’s plains or in Kosova’s mountains has been rejected; NATO fears that its aircraft and crew may be vulnerable to Serb defenses in such operations, even though only one single NATO aircraft (an F-117 îstealth’ night bomber) has so far been shot down. It is also noticeable that since NATO reached this decision, the media has also stopped reporting the plight of these Kosovars, evidently in order to avoid highlighting NATO’s impotence and failure.
The west now defines its war aims as being to ensure the return of Kosovar refugees to their homes, and that the Serbs permit an international force to monitor their well-being. Many commentators have concluded that the west’s main concern now is to minimise the number of Kosovar refugees they have to look after in other western countries.
They also remain determined, despite the ample evidence of the Serbs’ inhumanity towards the Kosovars, that Kosova must remain a part of Serbia and must not be permitted either to become independent or to join Albania, as many Kosovars and Albanians would like. (The brotherhood and generosity towards the Kosovars shown by the Albanian people, whose country has been almost overrun by refugees and western troops and aid workers, has been noted by many commentators.)
This is a wholly illogical position in view of recent events, which the west justifies as being essential in order to avoid îinstability’ in the region. In fact, Milosevic’s policies have already dangerously destabilised the region, and forcing the Kosovars to remain in Serbia is likely to perpetuate the instability rather than avert it. The only possible explanation for the west’s position is that it still fears the emergence of another Muslim state in Europe, even such a weak one.
How the west’s progress towards a compromise with Serbia proceeds remains to be seen. Whether it will be with Milosevic or a more acceptable Serb leader such as deputy premier Vuk Draskovic - who is just as anti-Kosova, but less implicated in the recent events - is also open. But events over the last 10 years have shown that the Serbs cannot be trusted. Still the west will force the Kosovars into a deal which will ultimately cost them dear.
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999