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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

NATO Spread Too Thin to Keep Kosovo Safe




PRISTINA, Yugoslavia -- Zoran Vujovic found his mother's body in her stylish two-bedroom apartment in the Sunny Hill section of Pristina. Her fully dressed corpse lay over the edge of the bathtub, her feet on the ground, her head in the water, where someone had held her until she drowned.


Ljubica Vujovic, 78, was a lifelong resident of Kosovo. She was also a Serb, and in the new Kosovo, that's enough to get you killed.


For every day since NATO-led peacekeeping troops assumed authority in this Serbian province, a Serb or Gypsy has been killed, tortured, kidnaped or threatened, according to tallies by NATO, human rights groups and Serbian officials. Serb- and Gypsy-owned homes have been burned or seized; state-owned or private Serbian businesses have been occupied and their operators expelled; Serbian Orthodox holy places have been bombed or desecrated - and all the while, more Serbs have fled.


The ideal of a multiethnic Kosovo - a place where Serbs, Albanians and Gypsies can live together, a place NATO went to war to achieve - is verging on collapse. NATO commanders and UN officials here vow to protect people from all communities but acknowledge that they're spread too thin to do so.


"It looks like it's over for the Serbs,'' said one U.S. official bluntly. "We can talk about peace, love and democracy, but I don't think anyone really knows how to stop this.''


The flight of Serbs from Kosovo in the last eight weeks is starting to look irreversible, a development with profound political implications for the UN-led effort to create a pluralistic, democratic society while still respecting Yugoslavia's sovereignty. Less than 25 percent of Kosovo's prewar Serbian population of 200,000 remains, and more flee each day.


Without Serbs, the ethnic Albanian drive for an independent Kosovo, an aspiration long resisted by the West, could well become unstoppable, Western officials acknowledge.


Ethnic Albanian leaders, including military and political commanders of the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army, have condemned the violence and said publicly they wish Serbs to remain. But human rights groups charge that, although there is no evidence of an organized rebel effort to drive out Serbs, KLA units are implicated in acts of violence against Serbian civilians and Gypsies who went along with the crackdown carried out during the war by Serbian-led Yugoslav security forces.


"The most serious incidents of violence ... have been carried out by members of the KLA,'' Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.


"Although the KLA leadership issued a statement on July 20 condemning attacks on Serbs and Roma, and KLA political leader Hashim Thaqi publicly denounced the July 23 massacre of 14 Serbian farmers, it remains unclear whether these beatings and killings were committed by local KLA units acting without official sanction, or whether they represent a coordinated KLA policy,'' the group added. "What is indisputable, however, is that the frequency and severity of such abuses make it incumbent upon the KLA leadership to take swift and decisive action to prevent them.''


Human Rights Watch reported, for instance, that within days of NATO peacekeepers' entry into Kosovo, uniformed KLA members began appearing at the Prizren homes of Marica Stamenkovic, 77, and Panta Filipovic, 63, demanding money. On June 21, both had their throats cut. An ethnic Albanian Catholic told Filipovic's wife, Maria, that KLA members committed the killings, Human Rights Watch said.


At least 200 Serbs have disappeared or been killed, according to Western and Serbian officials.


"Kosovo is being ethnically cleansed,'' said Zoran Andjelkovic, who represents the Belgrade government in Kosovo. "And if it happens, this will represent huge failure for the international community.''


In fact, oppression's spiral is turning. The campaign against ethnic Albanians that was orchestrated by the Belgrade government during NATO's bombing campaign, is finding a counterpoint in the wave of terror against Serbs, the former fiat-style rulers of the province.


The Serbian Orthodox Church, which has condemned the policies of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, has stressed that Serbs guilty of atrocities have almost certainly fled Kosovo and, overwhelmingly, those been victimized were not participants in the assault.