Kosova: what remains after 'victory'?
By Michael Karadjis
Who won the Kosova war? According to Western leaders, NATO did, and Slobodan Milosevic "totally capitulated". According to Milosevic, the war ended with a "victory for Serbia's peace policy". According to the Kosova Liberation Army, they've won Kosova.
The emphasis on "total capitulation" by Milosevic is overstated. NATO got its way in stationing its troops in Kosova. All Yugoslav forces have to withdraw, then "hundreds" can return, whereas under the proposal at Rambouillet, 2500 would have stayed while the rest withdrew.
On the other hand, NATO's troops are under the United Nations flag, claimed by Serbia as a victory; in rejecting Rambouillet in March, the Serbian parliament left the door open to some kind of UN presence. Furthermore, Rambouillet would have given NATO forces the right to roam around anywhere in Yugoslavia, not just Kosova; in this agreement they have no such right. And the foreign forces will include troops from non-NATO countries, including thousands of pro-Serbian Russian troops.
Hence on the key issue — the nature of the armed international presence — the final agreement is a compromise. On all the other points — that Kosova remains part of Serbia, that it be granted a form of autonomy and that the KLA be disarmed — there was already complete agreement between NATO and Milosevic.
What of the Albanian majority and the KLA? Albanians' elation as they watch their hated oppressors leave may be tempered once they return to a country completely wrecked. Eighty per cent will not have a house to live in, not to mention schools, hospitals and mosques destroyed by Serbian forces, and bridges, railways and other infrastructure hit by NATO bombing.
Traumatised refugees are returning to mass graves of relatives; their civic organisations have been destroyed and their professionals killed; their capital, Pristina, is in ruins. Much more so are other regional towns.
And still they are denied independence. Indeed, while Rambouillet also stressed only autonomy within Serbia, there was a clause saying that in three years there would be a review, and one of the bases of that review would be the "will of the people". The Kosovans interpreted that to mean an independence referendum, which the US strongly denied.
Whatever the interpretation, the clause has been dropped from this agreement. Independence is much further away as a result of the recent apocalypse. Asked about the clause, KLA leaders respond, "If not in three years, then maybe in 10 years". For now, there are more pressing tasks, such as reconstructing a semblance of a society that existed until March 24.
As Yugoslav troops withdrew north, KLA forces took control of some southern towns near the border, such as Prizren. NATO forces arrived more slowly. During this "power vacuum", thousands of Serb civilians joined the retreating military, fearing reprisals by returning Albanians. Some 50,000 Serbs have fled their homes.
Russian troops arrived before NATO and seized Pristina airport. On their arrival, they were cheered by Pristina Serbs, who felt safer with Russian troops than with the NATO troops who had been bombing them.
The NATO-Russian agreement of June 18 "recognises the stakes that Russia and NATO share in Europe's future", according to US defence secretary William Cohen. Under the agreement, there will be a 10-member Russian military delegation to NATO's Brussels headquarters and another three at the southern command in Naples, so Russian forces in Kosova will report directly to Russian superiors — who have, however, been more integrated into NATO.
To the last, withdrawing Yugoslav troops and special police burned and looted Albanian villages and continued with random killings of Albanians. Likewise, many returning Albanians, in KLA uniform or not, have burned and looted homes of Serbs who fled, and have carried out random killings and abductions.
In some cases, Albanians claim they are seizing back property that was stolen from them, or looting because they have nothing left; clearly, however, there is a degree of vengeance being taken out against innocent Serbs. Having committed a holocaust against the Albanians, the Serbian chauvinist forces have put these civilians in the firing line.
In the past, the KLA has avoided attacks on Serb churches or monasteries; now there have been some reported attacks by returning Albanians, following the wholesale destruction of historic Albanian mosques during the genocide.
The Serbs are not all defenceless, simply outnumbered. The Milosevic regime had armed the entire Kosovan Serb citizenry, making them far more heavily armed than Albanians outside the KLA's organised forces. When US forces rescued Serb civilians who were being harassed by a KLA unit in the southern town of Urosevac, after disarming and arresting the KLA forces, they found that the Serbs were also armed to the teeth. "Even old women had grenades in their pockets", they reported.
Both Serbs and Albanians have accused the NATO forces of bias against them and lack of action in their defence. In Pec the KLA noted the "strange indifference" of Italian troops to the burning and looting of Albanian homes by Serb police, who are "now dressed as civilians" while keeping their arms. French troops in the abandoned town of Grace stood by as returning Albanians looted and burned Serb homes, until British troops turned up and sealed off the area, making a number of arrests.
More than bias, these cases demonstrate the inability of a foreign force to contain the rage and the desperation of many armed and unarmed civilians on both sides that has been unleashed by the bombing and the genocide.
NATO, Milosevic, the KLA and the Serbian Orthodox Church have all appealed to Serbs to return to Kosova. Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Pavle has set an example by personally going to live in Kosova. NATO has escorted 2000 Serbs back to Kosova.
In other cases, NATO has intervened forcefully to stop vengeance attacks or arbitrary justice by undisciplined KLA forces. In Prizren, German NATO troops raided the police station, where KLA forces were holding and beating Albanian, Serb and Rom (Gypsy) prisoners, accusing them of various crimes. The KLA soldiers were disarmed, and German troops are stopping cars and seizing weapons from the KLA.
Disarming the KLA
For NATO forces, such events serve as part of the propaganda for their presence, and part of their broader offensive to disarm and demilitarise the KLA.
For example, US troops in Zagre are routinely searching cars returning from Macedonia and stripping Albanians of weapons. When one 200-strong KLA unit refused to disarm, US marines threatened them with Cobra helicopter gunships and armoured vehicles, and ordered the commander to lie down on the road. Their weapons were seized and six KLA officers led away in handcuffs.
British troops have also been forcibly disarming KLA units; in one case a skirmish was reported, which some reports claimed was a gun battle.
The KLA leadership has played a highly responsible role. KLA leader Hashim Thaci claimed, "The phenomenon of Serbs leaving is upsetting to us ... We ask all the Serbs who left and haven't done any crimes to come here and live in a democratic Kosova."
Thaci promised severe punishment for KLA or other Albanian groups carrying out reprisals against Serbs. Other KLA leaders have made similar statements.
The problem, however, is how the leadership can control the anger in the ranks in the short term. NATO claims it can control it by disarming the KLA; however, this strips the KLA leadership of the authority to impose discipline on the ranks, without guaranteeing that NATO can do much better. Rather, NATO's aim is to strip the KLA of any authority, coopt certain leaders and dampen the independence struggle.
NATO and the KLA reached an agreement on demilitarisation and disarmament on June 21. The KLA must immediately stop setting up checkpoints or conducting any kind of military activity, and within a month hand over all automatic weapons and long-barrelled guns, including their AK-47s, to be put in storage sites controlled by NATO. Within 90 days, they must stop wearing uniforms or insignia and disband.
Media reports have suggested that NATO might allow the KLA to transform itself into a peacetime army "like the US National Guard." In reality, this was strongly opposed by NATO, considerably holding up discussions. In the final text, the KLA states its desire to set up such a future army, but the agreement only allows for it to be "considered" in the future.
Such a territorial defence force was part of the autonomy that Kosova had before 1989 — underlining that, despite the hype, this is a reduced autonomy within Serbia.
Further, to underline that the KLA would not even become the new police force, the agreement merely allows "consideration" of individual KLA fighters for posts in the new civilian police.
Under Rambouillet, this civilian police force would also have included a proportional number of Serbs. But for now, a form of partition looks more likely. Probably there will be patches where Russian troops and returning Yugoslav troops guard the Serb population, while NATO guards the Albanians.
The first signs of partition are taking place in the French sector. In the large northern industrial city of Mitrovica, armed local Serbs have made the river through the town the partition line, staffing it in shifts and preventing the return of Albanians, declaring the north of the city, and all Kosova north of Mitrovica to the Serbian border, to be a "Serb zone".
French forces are reportedly tolerating the partition. The French zone in the north contains much mineral wealth.