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Multiethnic Kosovo is a dream untrue

U.S. officials, rights workers cite lack of protection in Serbian, Gypsy enclaves

Friday, November 19, 1999

By Philip Smucker, Special to the Post-Gazette

WASHINGTON -- Senior U.S. officials and human rights workers say the prospects for a

multiethnic Kosovo are fading fast five months after the international community took control

of the embattled Serbian province.


Philip Smucker is a free-lance journalist based in Yugoslavia who frequently writes for the Post-Gazette.


That dire assessment comes in advance of President Clinton’s high-profile visit to Kosovo this

month. The Clinton administration since 1995 has referred to its policy of promoting

multiethnicity in the Balkans as a centerpiece of its foreign policy.

But a senior U.S. official fresh back from a trip to the province said he was “extremely

disappointed” with the inability of the U.N. mission to get a handle on its mandate to improve

stability and protect minorities.

A senior analyst for the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch went further, saying the United

Nations’ stated efforts to create a multiethnic Kosovo are already headed for complete failure.

“The key moment was in the first months of the international mission, but that has passed,

and now it is like closing the barn door after the animals have fled,” said Freddy Abrams, the

Human Rights Watch official currently visiting Pristina to assess the situation there.

Despite a recent upsurge in murders in Kosovo, the overall rate of crimes against minorities

has gone down in recent weeks, largely because most minorities have fled to ethnically pure


Abrams said adequate protection and economic support for Serbs and Gypsies in these

enclaves simply does not exist. “It is a race now against inevitability because these minorities

have no access to basic social services, nor do they have long term economic prospects. I don’t

see any viability.”

The U.N. mission has a broad mandate to work with a 40,000-strong NATO-led peacekeeping

force in Kosovo to create stability in Kosovo.

The United Nations spends some $600 million a year in Kosovo, and the NATO mission there is

estimated to cost three times that.

But five months after the two missions began, hundreds of criminals have been arrested but

none of them has been brought to trial. Albanian analysts say organized crime is on the rise, and

a mood of anarchy has fostered a rising tide of what they call Albanian “fascism.”

A senior U.S. official said both Albanians and Serbs are coming to despise the foreign presence

in Kosovo for different reasons.

Albanians hate the United Nations for upholding a mandate that essentially locks Kosovo into

Serbia despite its independence aspirations.

Many of them, including Dr. Ibrahim Rugova, arguably the province’s most popular

politician, are bitter at the U.N. refusal to make good on promises for a general election next

spring. Serbs, in turn, hate the United Nations because hundreds of international policeman

have done little to secure their homes from revenge attacks by ethnic Albanians.

Western officials have praised, however, the belated efforts by the U.N. High Commissioner

for Refugees, or UNHCR, workers to move embattled Serbs and Gypsies out of danger when

they have come under attack.

“The UNHCR has now started a bus service to make it easier for people to travel, and they

have started to respond to requests for minorities trapped in enclaves and begging to get out of

Kosovo,” said Abrams.

Ironically, UNHCR- provided assistance for fleeing Serbian and Albanian refugees has led to

accusations that the mission is indirectly aiding and abetting “ethnic cleansing.” In a

controversial U.N. assessment of its failures in Srebrenica in 1995 that was released Tuesday,

the United Nations blamed itself for not providing adequate safety to the embattled Muslim

minority in Bosnia. But the decision then to stick with the idea of a “safe haven,” even when

Srebrenica’s walls were tumbling -- rather than aid an exodus -- led to the slaughter of some

7,000 Muslim males. Serbian Gen. Ratko Mladic, who micromanaged that assault, has been

indicted as a war criminal but now resides comfortably in Serbia.

U.S. State Department officials place most of the blame for the Kosovo failures on the

shoulders of the U.N. mission, while human rights officials like Abrams say NATO is equally

responsible for what he called “the enclavization” of Kosovo.

Even in the U.S.-run sector around the eastern Kosovo city of Gnjilane, the situation for

Serbs has steadily deteriorated. Several dozen kidnappings of Serbian males in the U.S. sector

remain unsolved, and Serbs there complain that they are being strangled economically by job

firings and grenade attacks.

The upshot of the alleged U.N. and NATO failures in Kosovo has given the Serbian

dictatorship a strong “I told you so” argument that bolsters its own authority at the very time

when U.S. officials say they are committed to trying to unseat Yugoslav President Slobodan

Milosevic through democratic means. Milosevic goaded his own people to war in Kosovo on the

grounds that the international community had no interest in their human rights.

“The U.N.’s and NATO’s failure to adequately protect minorities in Kosovo has played into the

hands of … Milosevic, giving him another tool in his bag to manipulate public opinion in his

favor,” Abrams said.

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