Once again, Milosevic thumbs nose at West Kosovo: More waves of refugees, war between Muslims and Christians, states too fragile to cope.

June 06, 1998

THE WEST will not permit another Bosnia in Serbia's Kosovo province, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said. Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia's strongman, is sure that it will. Germany's interest is to prevent many thousands of ethnic Albanian refugees from flooding Central Europe. Mr. Milosevic knows that NATO has estimated that 20,000 troops would be needed just to seal Albania's border with Kosovo, never mind occupy Kosovo, and that no country is volunteering them.

Kosovo is essential to Serb nationalism; it represents the original Serbia, site of the battle lost to the Turks in 1389. Most Serbs have never been there. Nine-tenths of its 2 million people are ethnic Albanians. It was an autonomous province until 1989, when President Milosevic suppressed its government and culture. It was in Kosovo that the former Communist czar appropriated Serb nationalism as the basis for retaining power in a post-Communist and post-Yugoslav era.

Through Serbia's war with Croatia and genocide in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, dormant Kosovo loomed as a more dangerous potential confrontation. Mr. Milosevic assumes that poor and Islamic Albanians are less attractive victims to the West than Bosnia's cultivated Muslims. He is aware that Albania dissolved into anarchy last year and is too weak to contemplate modern war against the remains of the Yugoslav federal army.

He knows that Albanian agitation might also undo Macedonia, where one-third of the people are ethnic Albanians. He assumes that should secular Turkey or freebooting Islamic fighters help the Albanians, such Orthodox Christian countries as Greece, Bulgaria and Russia would rally to Orthodox Serbia's side.

JTC In recent days, some 40,000 Kosovo Albanians have fled their homes, at least 12,000 crossing the border to Albania. Serb forces have reduced scores of villages to rubble. Their mission is to root out a separatist force called the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), but their method is ethnic cleansing. A smaller exercise in March only helped KLA recruiting.

Serbia has made the KLA a real force by stiffing the Democratic League of Kosovo, led by Ibrahim Rugova, who was overwhelmingly elected president of Kosovo by an underground election in March that Serb authorities could not prevent. He pursues political means, not violence, and the U.S. has promoted talks between him and Mr. Milosevic.

Autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia is the solution least unsatisfactory to all sides. Mr. Milosevic, however, always seems more secure when he is running a war that kills a lot of people.

Pub Date: 6/06/98

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