Kosovo bloodshed must end Yugoslavia: Violence against Albanians prompts ultimatum to Milosevic.

March 10, 1998

REPRESSION breeds violence. Kosovo is a textbook example.

The revocation of that largely ethnic-Albanian province's autonomy by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 triggered demands for independence. Since then, the spiral of violence has accelerated. In the past few months, secessionist guerrillas have been attacking police stations and assassinating Serb officials. That led to last week's bloody four-day sweep by Serbian police, which devastated villages and caused untold human suffering, including dozens of deaths.

To halt the bloodshed, a six-member Contact Group of foreign governments -- with some dissent from Russia -- yesterday gave Mr. Milosevic 10 days to begin a dialogue with Ibrahim Rugova, the moderate leader of Kosovo's Albanian community, or face the reimposition of harsh sanctions similar to those that were in effect against Belgrade in the mid-1990s.

"The violent repression of nonviolent expression of political views is completely indefensible," top foreign policy officials from the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy said in a joint statement.

Mr. Milosevic is likely to ignore the Contact Group's ultimatum. Since 1991, when his policies led the old Yugoslavia into a bloody breakup and civil war, he has cynically used brutality to cling to power. Now ruling over a rump federation consisting only of Serbia (which includes Kosovo) and Montenegro, Mr. Milosevic rejects foreign mediation efforts, claiming the turmoil is an internal problem.

He is wrong. The Contact Group has the right to intercede in Kosovo. If Serb aggression continues unabated, the Kosovo crisis may explode into a regional war. Albania might intervene to defend Muslim brethren. Fighting then might spread to the former Yugoslav state of Macedonia, where one-third of the population is Albanian. That might cause neighboring Greece and Bulgaria to step in. In such a case, Mr. Milosevic probably would call on Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia for military assistance.

Mr. Milosevic's actions in Kosovo are driven by desperation. Under his presidency, rump Yugoslavia is sunk deep in political, economic and social trouble. He is trying to keep the union from disintegrating. At any cost.

Pub Date: 3/10/98

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