Peace deal with Serbia a bitter pill for Kosovars

Hopes for independence are dashed

future of KLA, return of refugees unclear

War In Yugoslavia

June 04, 1999|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Kosovar and ethnic Albanian leaders reacted warily and bitterly to the peace plan unveiled yesterday, saying a provision allowing hundreds of Serbian soldiers to remain in the province means many refugees would never return to their homes.

Moreover, the leaders oppose Russian troops as part of the international peacekeeping force and bridle that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic will still have sovereignty over Kosovo.

Some of them, and some observers, raised the possibility that the rebel fighting force, the 17,000-man Kosovo Liberation Army, which is supposed to be "demilitarized" under the accord, will not cooperate.

The agreement hammered out by Russia and the West says that after the withdrawal from Kosovo of 40,000 Yugoslav army and special police forces, upward of 1,000 Serbian soldiers would be allowed to return to guard religious and cultural sites, as well as mark mine fields and maintain key border crossings, officials said.

"There's not a single refugee who will go back as long as a single Serb soldier is in Kosovo," said Shinasi Rama, a New York-based spokesman for the Provisional Government of Kosovo. "That would be like putting 10 [Nazi] Waffen SS troops in front of the Holocaust Museum and saying come and visit. This is how the Albanian people look at it. That's not acceptable."

More than 700,000 ethnic Albanian refugees have been driven out of Kosovo. Most of them are huddled in makeshift camps in Albania and Macedonia.

Rama also said there was opposition to a still-unknown number of Russian troops who will be part of the estimated 50,000-member international peacekeeping force. "You cannot have Russians there when Russian mercenaries were fighting on the Serb side," he said. Western reporters in Kosovo have interviewed Russians taking part in Yugoslav army attacks on the rebel KLA.

There are also questions about the future of Kosovo, which will be administered by a United Nations civil administration.

"They need to settle this thing in the right way," said Harry Bajraktari, an Albanian activist in New York and former publisher of the Bronx-based newspaper Ilyria. Bajraktari and other leaders will meet with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on Monday. "We want to raise our concerns," he said.

Bajraktari said there is concern about a United Nations civil administration in Kosovo, pointing out that the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in the early 1990s occurred when the international organization was in charge. "Anything the U.N. touches doesn't go in the right direction," he said.

What is left unclear is the future of the Kosovars, who are pressing for independence, although the allies are willing to offer only autonomy. When the Kosovars accepted an international agreement in Rambouillet, France, in March, that deal held out the possibility that after a three-year interim settlement, the Kosovars might be able to choose independence.

Milosevic refused to sign the agreement and the allies soon began the bombing campaign in Yugoslavia.

But the peace deal unveiled yesterday makes no mention of any time line or possibility of future independence. The text says only that "the people of Kosovo will enjoy substantial autonomy within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

"We don't believe Milosevic has a right to exercise any kind of power in Kosovo," said Rama, adding that Rambouillet is no longer "applicable" and only a "a useful basis for a future agreement."

Kurt Bassuener, associate director of the Balkan Action Council, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group, said the peace deal appears to be a step backward from what the Kosovars agreed to in France. The new text refers only to the "full taking into consideration" of that earlier agreement. "I think this is weaker than Rambouillet," he said. "It's vague."

Bassuener said that while he believed many refugees would return, he predicted that a "scant" number would return where the Russians are patrolling due to Moscow's support of Milosevic.

"The people will not feel secure," he said. "NATO will not have freedom of action; the U.N. will be a lot more Belgrade friendly."

Like Rambouillet, the peace deal also calls for the "demilitarization" of the KLA, which has grown to more than 17,000 fighters. The KLA has been receiving more sophisticated arms, such as anti-tank weapons. In recent days it has locked in a fierce fight with Yugoslav troops, trying to open up a second supply corridor from Albania into Kosovo.

State Department spokesman Jamie Rubin noted that Albright would be in touch with KLA representatives and expected "good cooperation."

Asked what the Kosovars would do if their concerns were not addressed, Bajraktari said: "The leverage we have is we'll continue fighting, politically and militarily. What else can we do? The people have been killed and raped and thrown out of their homeland."

Rama, however, predicted the KLA would cooperate with the peacekeepers. "The KLA is the least likely problem," he said. "They've been very cooperative in the past and will be in the future."

Ivo Daalder, a Balkans expert at the Brookings Institution, said the peace deal "just kicked the fundamental can down the road" and opened the way for renewed fighting and instability in the Balkans.

"These [the KLA] are people who will fight to the bitter death," he said. "This is their territory, their land and they won't give up. They have the power to undermine the deal, could tell the refugees not to go back."

Bassuener of the Balkan Action Council said the KLA's "in a rotten position," after the peace deal.

"It's just an ugly deal for them," he said, "and they're in a position where they can't do a lot."

Pub Date: 6/04/99

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