Comment: Nato resorts to war by proxy

There are no rules in the Kosovo war, and the KLA is now Nato's representative there

"THEY PUT their trust in us and we can't let them down," President Clinton told the American people less than three weeks ago.

Just two weeks later, General Wesley Clark pulled the rug from Clinton's promise to the Kosovo Albanians. Nato's air campaign, he declared, "couldn't stop 'ethnic cleansing'." A few days later, Air Chief Marshal Sir John Day told us, with breathtaking lack of precision, that "this campaign has some way to go." Surely we didn't believe, Nato's spokesman James Shea admonished journalists in Brussels, that this was going to be over in just a few days?

Well, they didn't tell us that four weeks ago, did they? Back then, we were informed that although President Milosevic's vicious security police were expelling tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians wholesale from their homes, it would have been "even worse" if Nato hadn't bombed Yugoslavia. And now we must forget - or ignore - the terrible statistics of death: 2,000 Kosovo Albanians killed in the 12 months up to the start of the Nato bombardment; 3,200 in the past month alone.

And now the whole policy is being subtly shifted once again. We cannot stop Milosevic's "ethnic cleansing", but at least he can't do it "with impunity". Half his MiGs have been destroyed, and 100 per cent of his oil-refining capacity (or so we are told). "We are knocking the stuffing out of Milosevic," Shea proclaims.

So that is what the Nato mission has become - a punishment campaign. Goodbye autonomy for the Kosovo Albanians. Goodbye Rambouillet. Goodbye Nato protection. Goodbye the dream of independence. No wonder the Serbs believe they are winning. On Belgrade TV, the crude, almost pornographic anti-Nato documentaries are achieving their effect.

Wrecked hospital wards and screaming civilians are spliced into authentic colour footage of Hitler at Berchtesgaden. Eva Braun jokes with the Fuhrer. "Monica," shouts a voice. And an unseen audience roars with laughter. A skull glows red-hot and the words "NATO U BLATU" appear on the screen - "Nato into the mud."

Rubbish, of course. But then I remember the skull of the Kosovo Albanian refugee smouldering in the back of a tractor trailor bombed by US F-16s in southern Kosovo, with its white teeth, and the backbone and just one fleshy leg hanging over the back of the truck. Nato didn't confess to that until we found the codings on shrapnel from the American bombs. And the 14-year-old boy dying in the Belgrade hospital with half his stomach torn out by a Nato bomb in Pristina; and the young woman cancer patient who asked me how I'd feel if my neck had been cut open by a Nato bomb blast the day after a tumour operation. Or the old woman dragged from the Nato-bombed train at Grdelica, who said that the carriage roof had crushed her face and blinded her for life.

I doubt very much whether these scenes are going to force the Serb people to undertake the "democratic transition" in Serbia that President Clinton fondly requested this week. And you can see, living among the Serbs as I have been doing this past month, how this insidious propaganda works. They are not told of the "ethnic cleasing" of Kosovo. They do not see the tens of thousands of Kosovo Albanians, or hear their stories of terror. "There are some primitive people down there who are doing terrible things," an elderly Serb lady admitted to me over lunch the other day. "The Serbs will pay the price for this."

But "paying the price" - punishment - is part of the Serb theme of victimhood. If the Serbs are doing bad things, goes the refrain, it is because of what has been done to them. And the Albanians are to blame. Over and over again here, I am having the same kind of awful conversations with Serbs that I have had with Israelis. Serbia cannot afford to be overrun, to lose its Jerusalem in Kosovo. If injustice has been done to the Albanians/ Palestinians, it is because the Serbs/ Israelis must never allow themselves to be crushed and persecuted again. And how can the Serbs/ Israelis deal with Albanian/ Palestinian "terrorism" except with terror and retaliation?

There is, indeed, an awful parallel between the dispossession of the Palestinians, the massacre at Deir Yassin, the destruction of Palestinian villages in 1948 and the Serb slaughters in Kosovo and the destruction of Albanian villages.

No wonder Ariel Sharon - of Sabra-Chatila fame - was quick to see the parallels, arguing that autonomy for the Kosovo Albanians might lead to a demand for autonomy or independence from Israeli Arabs, and that an autonomous Kosovo might become "a centre of Islamic terror". But the parallels do not end there. Nor does hypocrisy.

Listen now to President Clinton, speaking a couple of weeks ago about the Kosovo Albanians.

"We... can't forget about their rights to go home," he said. "The refugees belong in their own homes in their own land... [they have] the right to return."

But isn't that exactly - the very words - what every Palestinian has been demanding since 1948? Isn't that what every surviving Palestinian in Sabra and Chatila wants? The words "right of return" are inscribed on every Palestinian refugee's heart, printed in every Arab document on Palestinian dispossession. For Pristina, read Haifa. And when, back in the Cold War, the Soviets realised that they could not commit ground troops to fight for the Palestinians, they supported their guerrillas, and funded and armed the rebel movements of the Palestinian diaspora.

And that is exactly what the US and Nato - too frightened to commit their soldiers to a land campaign - are doing now with the Kosovo Liberation Army. The KLA are being given weapons, trained - by Americans in Albania - and supported by Nato. Just as Soviet leaders would once shake the hands of Nayef Hawatmeh and George Habash and Yasser Arafat (in his previous incarnation), so Mrs Albright can shake the hand of Hisham "the Snake" Thaqi of the KLA. Just as Soviet military commanders once praised the guerrilla attacks of the PLO on Israel, so now British officers in Brussels and London and the Pentagon's spokesman Ken Baker in Washington praise the KLA's attacks in Kosovo. I must admit that I never thought I'd see the day when an RAF Air Commodore (the hopeless Wilby in Brussels) would be pontificating about how the KLA was "regrouping" to fight on in Kosovo.

For the KLA are clearly to be Nato's foot soldiers. It is impossible - indeed, inconceivable - that the CIA are not involved in training the KLA. And the KLA are not just attacking Serb special security police and Yugoslav soldiers - a perfectly orthodox method of guerrilla fighting - but Serb civilians as well.

Who killed the Serb mayor of Kosovo Polje, just before the Nato bombardment? Who burned down the Serb villages outside Brezovica? No, what the KLA have done is on nothing like the scale of Serb atrocities in Kosovo. No, the KLA is not held responsible for mass rape or executions. But there are no rules in the Kosovo war and the KLA is now Nato's - our - representative in the Serb province. With the KLA using Nato as air cover and claiming to represent the Kosovo Albanian people - and with Nato openly acknowledging its alliance with the KLA - is it any wonder that the Serbs have decided to drive every Albanian from the province, on the grounds that every village is now aligned with the Nato powers that are bombing Serbia?

Not what we expected when we signed the Rambouillet accord back in March, is it? Not what the Kosovo Albanians thought, either. And not quite what our leaders told us to expect when they went to war. We're going to see more Nato support for the KLA in the coming days and weeks and months. No one will mention the Contras, of course, or the Bay of Pigs. We can bomb from Aviano in Italy, feel good about hurting Serbs and then go home and leave the Kosovo Albanians to their own devices.

That was pretty much the message on a bomb dropped near the village of Ribinca, close to Vranje in southern Serbia, last week, in a raid that injured two civilians. A hand-written message on the bomb casing read: "Bad times. Isn't it lovely? See you guys. I'm going home. Eric N, Italy."

Eric, I fear, represents all of us. And in case Nato claims that he doesn't exist, Mr Shea may like to check the munitions code found by the Yugoslav news agency Tanjug: 30003 70 4 AS 4829 MFP 96214.

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