June 10, 2000 International Tribunal for U.S./NATO War Crimes in YugoslaviaKosovo: Calm but Tense
By Roland Keith
Roland Keith was a Canadian official who served as a monitor for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europes Observer mission in Kosovo and Metohija. This mission was supposed to maintain the peace in Kosovo in 1998. Keith describes its real role, which was to prepare the groundwork for NATOs war, thereby helping to prove a crime against peace.
The security situation within Kosovo on 19 March, 1999, as reported by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was calm but tense. In addition, the alert status remained at "one", a 'potentially' deteriorating environment, but not actually deteriorating, and there was no direct threat to OSCE personnel. This had been the reported situation: general stability throughout Kosovo for the weeks and months prior to 20 March, 1999. It was also the situation that Field Station, Kosovo Polje had experienced since its establishment in mid-February. Yet, on 20 March, the OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) was ordered to evacuate Kosovo by the then OSCE Chairman in Office, the Norwegian Foreign Minister. This was the penultimate western move to force Yugoslavian compliance to accept the Rambouillet-Paris ultimatum and to surrender its sovereignty. It did not change the political standoff, however.
The result was an anticipated air strike of a few days, that ended in an eleven-week air bombardment, creating directly, or indirectly, a full-scale civil war, along with a vast humanitarian disaster, combined with destruction throughout Yugoslavia. Given its length and consequences, this aerial war was ill -conceived and planned. It could and should have been avoided!
So what led to this breakdown of the peace process and were there alternatives?
Historical grievances existed within the Kosovo ethnic communities. These had been exacerbated by the political destabilization and a loss of local Kosovo autonomy within Yugoslavia, itself exacerbated by Western interference in Yugoslavia's 1990s wars of secession. The resulting increasing tensions in Kosovo led to the commencement of an armed insurrection in February 1998 by the UCK, or Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). The Yugoslav Ministry of the Interior Police (MUP), supported by the Yugoslav Army (VJ), reacted to impose security and counter the terrorist threat. The resulting destruction of numerous villages, with some 2,000 fatalities, including some 600 Serbs, along with the displacement of some 200,000 residents, as well as 50,000 refugees who fled the province, led to the creation of a significant, but mostly Internally Displaced, Population(IDP).
Once again, international interference had help create destabilization, which threatened the Balkans. Under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199 of September 1998, the international community called for a Kosovo cease-fire, a withdrawal of belligerent contact and a limitation of the military and security forces and their weaponry. This "peace, stability and cooperation" was to be verified by the OSCE international observer mission, along with the KVM of up to 2,000 OSCE verifiers, whose unarmed monitoring presence was agreed to by Special Envoy, Richard Holbrooke, representing the western Contact Group, and Slobodan Milosevic, representing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), on 16 October 1998. This was to hopefully end the previous eight months of internal conflict and its humanitarian consequences.
Given its international composition, the KVM was organized and deployed quite slowly, and it was not fully operational, even on a partial basis, until early in 1999.
Also, given its composition, its myriad of verifier experience, and its limited administrative support, the KVM international observer teams did manage to provide a degree of calming stability by monitoring cease-fire compliance or non compliance, investigating cease-fire violations and security road blocks, and assisting humanitarian agencies. It was restricted, however, by its very limited presence to vehicle road patrols, and its numerous liaison meetings with both the security forces, the insurgents and various groups of inhabitants. These limitations, however, enabled the 1,300 verifiers to better monitor the security forces, attempting to maintain security within the major communities and the internal lines of communication, than the KLA factions. Consequently, they were left in control of much of the hinterland unchallenged. The KLA also generally ignored the cease-fire, provoking and inhibiting the security forces, while it consolidated and built its strength in preparation for a military solution, hopeful of NATO military support.
The result was inevitable: the low intensity conflict of the end of 1998 increasingly evolved into a mid-intensity insurrection, of ambushes, kidnappings of security forces, and with the encroachment of critical lines of communication in a series of incidents and government casualties. The security force response was also inevitable, as they struck back, and thereby also exceeded their restrictions on the application of force.
So, with no desire for further diplomacy, NATO had its war, and only after seventy-eight days of air bombardment was it suspended. Yugoslav forces withdrew from Kosovo, and NATO ground forces occupied the province, establishing a UN- administered protectorate. With the reversal of power, the 800,000 Kosovar refugees, created by the war, returned, supporting the KLA's policy of reverse intimidation and atrocities. This all but ethnically cleansed the majority of the 270,000 Kosovo Serbs and other minorities from the province.
Thus, once again foreign intervention exacerbated Yugoslavian political problems, and it will likely increase Albanian regional ambitions. This could also potentially result in a Serbian irredentist movement, which will only destabilize the surrounding Balkan nations and European security even further.
The disastrous Kosovo war could and should have been avoided. Further diplomacy and increased international monitoring may well have restored human rights and reestablished stability, cooperation and peace. This could and should have been attempted. NATO went to war ostensibly to prevent a humanitarian disaster, with the expulsion of the majority Albanians; however, the war caused their displacement to occur, and then it created the circumstances for the reverse expulsion of Kosovo Serbs. By all accounts, the result of this unprovoked, unnecessary and illegal NATO war has been a disaster. There were alternatives and it could and should have been avoided. It was a colossal failure of international diplomacy!
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