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Commentary

Putting the Pressure on Milosevic

October 22, 1998|NATHAN GARDELS | RICHARD HOLBROOKE, the special American envoy to Yugoslavia, last week negotiated a peace agreement on Kosovo with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels

Question: Your Kosovo peace plan has taken a lot of heat for letting Milosevic still control the show. What is most significant of what you have accomplished?

Answer: The most important thing is that the Kosovo crisis has been internationalized under NATO pressure. A very intrusive air surveillance by NATO planes over Serbian territory with a guarantee of no interference by Serbian forces has been granted.

Two thousand "verifiers"--not passive monitors or observers but active participants of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--will be on the ground, allowed to go anywhere, not only to verify troop removals, but also, later on, to supervise elections to be sure they are fair and to train local police forces. There have been reports in the European press that there will be fewer than 2,000 verifiers, more like 800. That is wrong. Taken together, these are enormous concessions by Milosevic that he had so far been unwilling to make.

On the other hand, as you and I speak [Tuesday], Milosevic is not in compliance with the Kosovo accord. And if there is no compliance, he must know that the NATO activation order remains in effect, and we could end up with military action by next week. We are by no means out of the emergency yet. Compliance means compliance. Milosevic can't move some troops out and other troops in; that is not compliance.

Q: After six months of a Serb offensive, is the Kosovo Liberation Army still strong enough to assault Serb troops and provoke their return if they leave?

A: It doesn't take more than a handful of people with a couple of grenades to provoke a crisis.

Q: The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe verifiers will go into Kosovo unarmed. Don't you fear that they could become hostages like the U.N. peacekeepers were in Bosnia if bombing must be threatened again?

A: The U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia were armed. Arms are not their best security. Their best security is clear, unambiguous orders from both sides--the KLA and the Serbian forces--not to harm them. After Dayton, Milosevic gave his word in Bosnia that no harm would come to the NATO forces that went there. And he has kept his word on that. No one has been wounded or killed, indeed not even shot at. He has signed a similar pledge with respect to the OSCE. The KLA side has made some unilateral statements that they will not harm the verifiers, but they are not clear enough for my satisfaction.

Q: You feel then that the KLA guerrillas, who seek independence, may try to provoke a breakdown of the accord because they don't agree with it?

A: That's a very real danger. We have to be honest about this. The Albanians are the victims of Serb denial of their rights for over a decade. This has created a very strong and legitimately angry Albanian opposition, which includes people who have taken up arms. This general cease-fire is in everyone's interest, but it takes two sides to make it work.

Q: So you think the KLA is a greater threat to this agreement than the Serbs?

A: No, I did not say that. The Serb security forces ran wild over the summer. There was no justification under any circumstances for what they did. The people who committed atrocities last month could do it this month just as easily.

The brutality of the Serb treatment of the Albanians in unconscionable. At the same time, KLA elements have, in retribution, kidnapped and killed Serbs. The essential thing now is that they both stop.

Q: The period over the summer when the Serbs "ran wild" coincided with the lull of diplomatic initiative. Why couldn't you have done what you did last week six months ago?

A: I don't quarrel with the criticism. The reasons for the long delay in getting our act together are complicated. There was a theory among many of the U.S. allies that NATO action could only take place after the Security Council approved it. This allowed the Russians to delay the process. It took many weeks to overcome that obstacle, tragically lost weeks during which hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless. Democracies are slow to act; that is in their nature. But when they act, they are effective.

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