An end to the tragedy in Kosovo now closer

End of bombing: If people return in safety, NATO policy will have worked and ethnic cleansing failed.

June 04, 1999

THE BOMBING had to stop, and the sooner the better. Serbian acceptance of an international peace plan for Kosovo suggests that the end is near. Nothing is automatic, however. Yugoslav troops have to be seen leaving. Other terms must be met.

The purpose of the bombing was to reverse the expulsion of Kosovo's people, which must be accomplished. It was not to drive Slobodan Milosevic from power or to make Kosovo independent.

Mr. Milosevic's downfall would enhance NATO's generosity in reconstruction but cannot be a condition of the cease-fire. Similarly, an independent United Nations-sanctioned tribunal indicted Mr. Milosevic for crimes against humanity.

Not consulted on peace terms, its indictment could not have been subject to bargaining.

A million ethnic Albanians displaced from their homes, most refugees in Macedonia and Albania, will be invited back. Many homes and villages no longer exist. Title to others has been destroyed. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees will be the real government of the people, sorting all this out during the transition. These are traumatized people whose willingness to return depends on the trust they place in NATO, the UNHCR, the U.N. Security Council and European watchdog institutions. Such trust is not automatic.

The Kosovo Liberation Army, demolished but reborn among the Albanian dispossessed, did not win. Its goal of independence is rebutted in the peace plan, which calls for an autonomous Kosovo within Serbia. Even Ibrahim Rugova, the leader of Albanian Kosovars hurt by his own nonviolence, always sought independence. To succeed, the peace plan needs acceptance by Albanian Kosovars, who were not parties to it. They should accept it, getting a better guarantee than the KLA could ever offer.

But the ironic possibility remains of a NATO and Russian conflict with KLA die-hards, NATO's recent allies. NATO has enough troops in neighboring countries to launch a robust vanguard of peacekeepers. .

It's not over until it's over. It is too early to say what has been vindicated and what repudiated by the outcome, but the end of this tragic episode appears to be at hand.

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