Comment: The peace that betrays the Kosovar cause

Nato's enemies will soon be the KLA, raging at us for abandoning their independence
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SO WE'VE won the war, have we? That's what we are now being told by our leaders. Messrs Clinton, Blair, Cook and all the rest are telling us that Nato may shortly achieve its aim of returning 750,000 refugees to their homes, of installing a Nato-Russian force in Kosovo and ensuring the withdrawal of Serb police and troops. Nato, after its failure to crush a country of 10 million people in fewer than 70 days, can now walk tall again. All the Albanians who trekked over the frontiers of Macedonia and Albania are going to head home under "our" protection.

The BBC and CNN have gone along with this scenario - just as their cameras will be there to record the emotional return of the people of Kosovo to Pristina, Prizren, Pec and the other scorched towns. All that will be missing is the truth: that we never went to war for the return of refugees. We went to war for a peace agreement accepted by the Kosovo Albanians but rejected by the Serbs - an agreement that Nato's leaders have themselves now rejected in their desperation to finish the air bombardment on Serbia. For the price of peace for Nato is the erasure of the most crucial paragraph in the Paris peace agreeement - the "final settlement" promised to the Kosovo Albanians after three years of autonomy that would almost certainly have led to independence.

Incredibly, we have allowed our leaders to bend the historical record, to twist the truth out of all recognition so that Nato's "victory" will be the return of an army of refugees who were not even refugees when we began this wretched war. And we are on the point of betraying the Kosovo Albanians whom we persuaded to sign up for peace in Paris with a promise that the "will of the people" (90 per cent of them Albanians) would be respected in 2002 with almost certain independence.

We cannot expect the BBC or CNN to rewind the film for us but we can nevertheless spool back through the last three months of history to remind ourselves of why we went to war. In their campaign of "ethnic cleansing", the Serbs had by the early spring committed a series of massacres. The world was outraged by what appeared to be a repeat - if on a smaller scale - of the Bosnian war. And we in the West still had a score to settle with Slobodan Milosevic over that terrible conflict.

In Paris, the Kosovo Albanians were cajoled into signing the American- scripted "peace". Madeleine Albright cosied up to her "friend" Hashim Thaci, the KLA man known as "The Snake" who was then the guerrilla army's leading officer. In the end, General Wesley Clarke - the very same general who has been busy bombing Serbia's barracks, army, air force, railways, oil refineries, water treatment plants, bridges, hospitals and housing estates - was brought in to remonstrate with Mr Thaci. The Kosovo Albanians would obtain their freedom, they were told, because - under the terms of the Paris agreement - an international meeting on Kosovo would be held in three years' time "to determine a mechanism for a final settlement for Kosovo, on the basis of the will of the people, opinions of the relevant authorities". Since only 10 per cent of "the people" were Serbs, the KLA knew what that meant.

Then the war began. And within weeks, the biblical exodus of the Kosovo Albanians was upon us, driven from their homes by the Serbs the moment Nato commenced its bombardment of Serbia. Mr Blair was to tell us that the refugee situation would have been "far worse" had Nato not gone into action - a suggestion he mercifully forgot once half the Kosovo nation had poured over the international frontier. In fact, Nato had every reason to know what would happen if it went to war with Serbia; on 18 March, General Nebojsa Pavkovic said in Belgrade that "settling scores with the terrorists [sic] still in Kosovo doesn't pose any problem and that's what we'll do if our country is attacked from the air or the ground."

Once the tragedy of the Kosovo Albanians was before our eyes, General Clarke announced that their exodus was "entirely predictable". He hadn't shared that information with us, of course, when the war had begun. And from that moment, the return of the refugees was adopted as the principal purpose of Nato's war. Nato troops would not enter Kosovo to "protect" the people - they would enter in order to ensure their safe return from an exile which the war itself had brought about. And the promises about the "will of the people" were forgotten. Independence for the Kosovars was no longer mentioned.

The "peace" that Mr Milosevic has now accepted is not the peace of Rambouillet or of Paris. Nato will send in the troops and force the Serb army out. But it is no longer offering a "mechanism" to respect the "will of the people". The Albanians will go back to an international protectorate that contains no formula for independence. The KLA will be "demilitarised".

And in a world where crystal balls are always broken, I venture to make a prediction about Kosovo which I sincerely hope will prove wrong: that in the days before Nato's troops arrive in Kosovo, the KLA's new commander - the infamous Agim Cecu who, as a Croatian army general, "ethnically cleansed" 170,000 Serb civilians from Krajina - will "cleanse" the remaining Serbs from Kosovo. That the KLA will refuse to be "demilitarised". That in a few months' time - at most a year - Nato's enemies will be the KLA, who will be raging against the West for abandoning their hopes of independence. Then we shall remember how we thought we had won the war.