The scale of atrocity requires the bombing

Kosovo: Humanitarian aid to fleeing refugees must mount as conflict is waged.

April 02, 1999

THE SERIOUSNESS of the conflict with Serbia has sunk in with the capture of three U.S. soldiers near the border and the collapse of a bridge into the Danube, impeding international river traffic.

The provocation -- Serbia's extermination and expulsion of Albanian Kosovars -- has also reached profoundly disturbing proportions. The comparisons to Hitler's policies five decades ago are vivid to NATO's European members, convincingly expressed by Germany's defense and foreign ministers.

The bombing has not made Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic a better person. On that, NATO miscalculated. The hope that force would lead him to back away from ethnic cleansing had been reasonably based. Similar bombing did just that for Bosnia, ending the conflict and bringing him to the peace table in 1995. Not this time.

The claim that the bombing provoked the ethnic cleansing is preposterous. Mr. Milosevic began methodical ethnic cleansing in December, watched the tepid reaction and then brought 40,000 troops to Kosovo. Without bombing, the exterminations, expulsions and identity destruction would have increased inexorably.

Fleeing Albanians report a policy of depopulation. Up to one-third of the 1.8 million ethnic Albanians in Kosovo have fled their homes. Archives of births, marriages and property ownership are being destroyed even as mosques and homes are razed. Such things are not spontaneous.

Attention must be focused now on emergency aid for the refugees pouring into Albania and Macedonia, and even Montenegro in federal Yugoslavia, none of which can cope with the droves of people. Instinctive offers of tents, blankets, medicine, food and aid workers have come from many countries and nongovernment organizations such as Catholic Relief Services of Baltimore. The U.S. announcement of $50 million is a first gesture, though not enough. The most difficult problem will be coordination and distribution.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, headquartered in Geneva, must play a key role. The agency has the experience, and its direction should be accepted so that those providing help avoid tripping over each other and get aid to where it is needed.

There will be U.S. casualties. Everyone who enlisted in the armed forces accepted the duty and the risk. They are serving their nation and humanity with courage and purpose. The first three U.S. soldiers to fall into Serbian hands have been slated for a show trial, which is not acceptable. Serbia should treat them decently as prisoners of war, or face consequences.

The bombing is turning to the military units carrying out the atrocities. While this involves low-altitude flying and a higher risk, it must be done. NATO should stay the course, and shows every determination to do so. The depopulation of Kosovo must end, and must be Mr. Milosevic's last atrocity.

Pub Date: 4/02/99

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