A FRESH START IS NEEDED IN KOSOVO

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MOSCOW. March 26 (RIA Novosti military analyst Viktor Litovkin).

More troops and police from NATO countries are arriving in Kosovo. A thousand German soldiers, a thousand French, a hundred Americans, 80 Italian carabineers... The ranks of the international peacekeeping force (KFOR) in the republic are swelling. From 17,500 a week ago, they have now grown to almost twenty thousand. But no one can guarantee that heavily armed peacekeepers will be enough to maintain even a fragile peace in Kosovo and Metokhia. Rather the opposite. At any moment there may be a repeat of the tragic March week, when a wave of violence swept across the province, leaving in ruins the last surviving Orthodox monasteries and ancient churches, including those protected by UNESCO, and in ashes dozens of Serb villages and hundreds of houses where Christian families lived in the midst of Albanians. This was when thousands of people, as they tried to save their own and their children's lives, found themselves without a roof over their heads.

The five years since the bombing of Yugoslavia and the introduction into Kosovo and Metokhia of a 40,000 troops from NATO and other countries that supported its peacekeeping efforts have been in vain, as we now see. Ethnic cleansing, which the "criminal Milosevic regime" was so angrily accused of in Europe and overseas and which was the main reason for the military operation against Belgrade, has become routine in the area. Only now it is directed against the Serbs. Prior to the arrival of the peacekeepers, 300,000 Serbs and Gypsies lived in Kosovo and Metokhia; today there are barely 70,000 Orthodox believers and all the Gypsies have left. The province has turned into a kind of Yugoslavian version of pre-2000 Chechnya - a "black hole" - which sucks in cars stolen from across Europe, which practically openly sells arms and drugs, and from where drug trafficking spreads throughout the Old World. Peacekeepers, UN and OSCE representatives, an international police contingent assembled from all over the world, are all unable to change anything.

What went wrong?

One reason, according to Russian experts, is the sanctimonious double standards used as a guide by many Western leaders in assessing the events that took place in the 1990s in Kosovo. None of them wanted to see behind the "ethnic cleansing", as Belgrade's moves to restore law and order in Kosovo and Metokhia were labelled at once, a struggle against Islamic extremism which has today swept over the Middle East, South East Asia and even part of the European states. Every one of them turned a blind eye to the training of international terrorist groups which were taught under the slogan of "protecting the oppressed Albanian population" to shoot, kill, blow up houses and bridges, and to establish their order which was far removed from civilisation and justice.

In informal conversations with journalists today, officials from NATO headquarters in Brussels openly acknowledge that al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremist organisations acted not only in Afghanistan, Pakistan and South East Asia, but also in Kosovo. Many of its members were Kosovo Liberation Army fighters. But for some reason no one in the West noticed that. It was considered inappropriate to discuss this. Just like it was inappropriate to talk about how international terrorists from Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and other states, rather than "fighters for the freedom and independence of Ichkeria", were acting on the territory of Chechnya. The task facing the US and NATO was only to overthrow "the odious regime of Europe's last surviving Communist dictator", Slobodan Milosevic. The fact that he too tried to halt Islamic extremism bothered nobody. An inconsequential detail. For two years now Milosevic has been on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But none of the heads of Albanian extremists, who for years spearheaded the killing and robbery of the Serb population, who have burned down houses, Orthodox churches and monasteries, and carried out cleansing campaigns, has been brought to justice.

What is more, UN and OSCE representatives and NATO peacekeepers, all the five years they have been in Kosovo, have strenuously pretended that the extremist Kosovo Liberation Army, which in line with a UN Security Council decision was to have been fully disarmed and disbanded, has transformed itself into a force dealing with emergencies.

The results of the inactivity and formalism of the UN and OSCE officials who led the takeover administration of the province have been witnessed by many journalists who have visited these parts over the last five years. Including the writer of this article. European and international bureaucrats, who incidentally drew very decent salaries for their work in a "hot spot", tried to avoid becoming mixed up in anything. They attempted to lead a cloistered existence, allowing events in Kosovo and Metokhia to take their course. The main thing for them was, as a Russian proverb has it, "make money without losing their chastity": to hold elections to a local parliament and set up a provincial government supposedly taking into account the interests of all sections of the local population and in doing so to head off spontaneous protests of ethnic Serbs.

But there were practically none. What protests could there have been when local law enforcement bodies and courts, the administrative system and power structures, legal and illegal, had passed into Albanian hands? As for the remaining Serb population, locked up in separate enclaves of the province and even in separately standing houses, no one was going to pay heed on them.

The Albanisation of Kosovo, contrary to resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council, contrary to the basic interests of other ethnic communities, proceeded apace. This was why the Russian peacekeepers, seeing how vain their efforts were to safeguard the interests of all sections of the local population, were forced to leave the province in order not to be responsible for what did and might happen there. And what really happened. The ultimate outcome of the formalism and double standards of international bureaucrats was shown to the world in the most naked way in late March.

The UN Security Council was forced to hold an emergency meeting and adopt a statement urging "all Kosovo's communities, in line with their responsibility, to stop all acts of violence, avoid further escalation and restore peace". "The paramount goal of the international community remains a multi-ethnic and tolerant democratic society in a stable Kosovo," says this statement.

It sounds good. But now the Kosovo settlement probably needs to be started from scratch and according to new rules. Many people in Europe and in other parts of the world have already realised that introducing additional troop contingents cannot solve the problem.

What is needed is a more principled and consistent policy from the global community aimed not only at protecting some or other ethnic groups of the population, but also at establishing a democratic order equally just for everyone in Kosovo, at recognising it officially as an inalienable part of Serbia and Montenegro, at gradually installing central government representatives in the autonomous region's administration, and allocating sizeable sums for its economic development...

The ethnic minority, i.e. the once majority Serbs, should be confident that their interests will not be ignored. And the present ethnic majority should realise once and for all that it does not possess the monopoly right on the ultimate truth, just as it has no prospect of seceding from Serbia and Montenegro and creating a greater Albania. It should know that any extremist, as well as terrorist, actions will be met with the full force of the law, and mercilessly put down. Otherwise the March violence will be repeated, only spilling into other European countries.

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