In Kosovo, it's now other countries' turn

Occupation: Constant dangers, friction with Russia, rebuilding a society for all.

June 15, 1999

THE U.S. domination of NATO operations in Kosovo has ended, as an occupation force commanded by a British general takes over. U.S. forces now will play a role equal to that of any other major NATO country, no greater.

The occupation has already resulted in more casualties to the NATO side than the bombing, the first being German journalists. Perils are everywhere, including land mines, Serbian paramilitaries taking potshots on the way out and Kosovar insurgents taking them on the way in.

The biggest immediate obstacle is Russia. The race to Pristina by 200 Russian peacekeepers from Bosnia cheered their countrymen, from Boris Yeltsin down. The apparent purpose, to hold the Pristina airport open for a larger Russian force that might partition Kosovo, failed.

It was thwarted by nearby Bulgaria, which denied the overflight rights that Russia sought. Bulgaria, as Serbia's neighbor, wants no partition of Kosovo.

Even so, handling the Russians remains a problem for the Clinton administration and for NATO's commander in Kosovo, Lt. Gen. Michael Jackson. The battle of thinking bombs is over. That of human wit is on. The diplomatic challenge is to bring the Russians aboard. The issue is not whether a Russian general will take an order from a British general, but whether Russians will partition Kosovo ethnically. They must not be allowed to do so.

Keeping the peace, restoring civil society, adjudicating property claims, preserving evidence of crimes against humanity are among the challenges facing the NATO command, as well as United Nations administrators, who will soon arrive. It is not what soldiers routinely train to do. The key to doing it successfully, as it was in the bombing phase, is NATO unity. So far, so good.

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