U.S. shifts stance on autonomy for Kosovo

Independence seems a more realistic goal

War In Yugoslavia


WASHINGTON -- Describing a Serbian campaign of execution, rape and burning, U.S. officials subtly shifted their position on Kosovo yesterday, arguing that President Slobodan Milosevic is losing his legitimate claim to the province in the eyes of the world.

Officially, the United States and its NATO allies remain committed to the peace plan put forward in February at Rambouillet, outside Paris.

This plan calls for Kosovo to enjoy substantial autonomy, though not full independence from Yugoslavia.

But Kosovo's ethnic Albanian populace has been so radicalized by the Serbian offensive that U.S. officials believe they would refuse to live under the Serbs. So even though their leaders have signed the accord, it may no longer be realistic.

James P. Rubin, the State Department spokesman, suggested that the West will find it hard to accept Milosevic's continued control of the province.

"It's a simple fact that the more President Milosevic carries out these kind of atrocities in Kosovo, the less the international community can support his claims to sovereignty over Kosovo," Rubin said yesterday.

"It's simply an analytical fact that he is losing Kosovo."

A rejection of Yugoslavian control over the province raises the stakes for NATO, which has so far demanded only that Milosevic negotiate under terms that would still keep Kosovo within Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. NATO forces would be fighting, in effect, to push the Serbs out of Kosovo, even though the alliance opposes independence for the province.

NATO officials fear that a stand-alone Kosovo governed by the ethnic Albanian majority could also further roil ethnic conflict in the already unstable Balkan region.

In a summary on the Milosevic campaign to expel ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, the State Department accused Serbian forces of rape, summary executions in 20 towns and villages throughout the province and the burning of thousands of dwellings.

State Department officials based the summary on reports they consider credible.

Men separated, missing

Thousands of men, possibly hundreds of thousands, have been separated from other refugees and are missing, the department said.

According to reports, 10,000 Albanian men may have been herded into a stadium in Pristina, the Kosovar capital, and 20,000 Albanians were force-marched and are being held in a factory.

Recounting a telephone conversation with a leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army, Rubin told of "another tragedy in the making" in Kosovo's Milasevo district, where 50,000 to 75,000 people were attacked by the Yugoslav military, police and paramilitary forces.

Half of Albanians ejected

From the Serbian standpoint, their methods have been effective. By the endd of this week, if not sooner, Serbian forces will have pushed out perhaps half the Albanian population.

This has put pressure on surrounding countries, such as Macedonia and Albania, that have had to absorb the refugees and will make it painfully difficult to resettle the Albanian Kosovars later.

"The tragedy of the past few days has erected a wall of hatred and antagonism which will not be easy to dismantle," Italy's foreign minister, Lamberto Dini, told key members of the Italian parliament yesterday.

Dini became the first high-ranking NATO official to publicly question the Rambouillet accords and their requirement that Kosovo remain within Yugoslavia.

"Rambouillet will have to be reviewed," Dini said.

Though British officials remain firmly in support of Rambouillet, a senior White House aide said Dini's call for a rethinking of the peace plan was simply "a reflection of reality."

Frank C. Carlucci, who was a secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations, both said yesterday that given the atrocities committed against the Kosovars, NATO could no longer expect them to live under Serbian sovereignty.

"Milosevic has forfeited any right to rule Kosovo," Carlucci said. "Rambouillet is clearly dead, and we have to find some formula for self-determination for the people of Kosovo."

One idea being floated to replace it is a NATO protectorate. This plan, however, would likely require NATO to expel Serbian forces from the province using ground troops, something the Clinton administration has publicly refused to consider at this point.

Option of partition

Another possibility, though not one that any official is willing to suggest publicly, is a partition of the province under which the Serbs would gain the north and central parts of the province. The Kosovo Albanians might gain control of the rest.

But White House officials rejected the idea of a partition yesterday, saying that it would be tantamount to rewarding Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing.

"Milosevic may favor partition, but NATO does not," said P.J. Crowley, a White House spokesman.

Still, unless the West is able to exert powerful pressure on the Serbs to relinquish the province, this is logically something that has to be considered, said Hans Binnendijk of National Defense University.

Pub Date: 04/01/99

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