In the final analysis the best intentions of NATO, the United States of America, and the United Nations for Kosovo's besieged civilian population have proved ineffective.
The deadline for Yugoslavian troops to withdraw from Kosovo expired yesterday, October 27. Yesterday's deadline was set by NATO after the original deadline, set in the October 13th agreement brokered by U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke, was blatantly ignored by the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
It is now clear that Milosevic has still not complied. While Yugoslav troops started moving Monday, it is unclear whether they are leaving Kosovo, and it is almost certain that sufficient troops remain there to intimidate the civilian population sufficiently to keep them in hiding. In the meantime, the First World powers that succeeded so boldly in gaining the October 13th concessions from Milosevic, are now performing a passable impression of a sounding board for Serbian propaganda.
In the West, we are now daily treated with reports of the Kosovo Liberation Army's (K.L.A.) attacks on Yugoslav forces. From a diplomatic perspective, these attacks on Milosevic's troops have been used as an explanation of Milosevic's ongoing disregard of NATO demands to withdraw. Meanwhile, the reports of K.L.A. activity are invariably accompanied by reports of further murders committed by Yugoslav police and army units against ethnic Albanian civilians. (The latest report tells of the shooting of an 11-year-old boy who was chopping wood, and the subsequent attacks on his funeral party.)
Higher up the food chain, the officials who are ostensibly responsible for the Kosovo debacle continue to put an optimistic spin on events: "I don't think you'll find that there will be any lessening of the military pressure from NATO until such time as we really do have full, irreversible compliance," NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said yesterday.
Similarly, the U.N. special rapporteur, Jirgie Dienstbir, has angered Kosovo Albanians by seemingly discounting the extent of the violence perpetrated by the Jugoslav forces over past months. In an open letter to Dienstbir issued to media yesterday, Albanian political leader Pajazit Nushi writes:
"Your recent statement, published in the Viboshçe Polish journal that the number of the victims in Kosova is not higher than 1000, is scandalous. We supply your office with regular information on the repression, perpetrated by the Serbian regime on the Albanians of Kosova. The facts show that 1,712 Albanians were killed, of whom, as we already said, more than half are women, children and elderly. On the other hand, 1,440 Albanians are considered as missing, most of whom we believe are not among the living any more.
We would also like to remind you, dear sir, that some 2,000 Albanians are in detention and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Some of them died as an aftermath of being tortured while in detention."
Of course, even if the number of murdered civilians is lower than the Albanians claim, this cannot justify apparently apologist remarks from such a senior U.N. official.
Meanwhile, back in the Yugoslav capital of Belgrade, many of the negative consequences which would have followed had military action against Milosevic started earlier, are occurring anyway. Critical newspapers have been closed down, and dissident politicians are being threatened. These actions are being justified by Milosevic as necessary due to the threats of action made by NATO.
In the light of the above, it is clear now the NATO policy towards Kosovo is wrong-headed. The objective of NATO policy is the protection of Kosovo civilians. Clearly this is not being achieved. Ethnic Albanians, women, children and the elderly continue to be intimidated and murdered by Milosevic's troops. Their homes have already been destroyed, and even if they were confident to return to their abandoned villages, there is now nothing left for them to return to. Meanwhile the theoretical cease-fire is just that, theoretical.
NATO should return to first principles and consider its objective - the protection of Kosovo's civilians.
At the moment the commencement of air strikes, seemingly NATO's only answer, would achieve nothing except war. And once started, any full-scale conflict would probably quickly spread to shatter the fragile peace in Bosnia as well. This in turn would inevitably lead to widespread devastation and the loss of considerably more innocent lives - a point which thankfully the NATO leaders do now appear to appreciate. Similarly, it is clearly impossible to put NATO ground troops on the ground to protect the Albanian civilians at present, as Kosovo is still occupied by a substantial force of Yugoslav troops.
So, what else can be done?
If the troops can't protect the people, then why not bring the people to safety? Why not evacuate Kosovo? If this could be achieved, then NATO would be in a position to proceed with military action against Milosevic's occupying troops without risking the lives of civilians. At the moment Milosevic is thumbing his nose at NATO because he can. He will no doubt continue to do so long as nothing changes. Meanwhile, Kosovo's people will continue to die unless NATO does something to remove Milosevic's whip hand. While evacuation may sound far-fetched, and possibly even ridiculous, the present situation is equally ridiculous. It has long past time to try something different.