Leading Article: The KLA must be forced to tolerate Kosovo's Serbs

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The Independent Culture
THE READINESS of the Kosovo Liberation Army to disarm itself is to be welcomed. The KLA's signature yesterday on a wide-ranging demilitarisation pact is an important start.

It is, however, just that: a start. There is already some disturbing evidence emerging from Kosovo that the Albanians are taking the opportunity to turn the tables on their violent oppressors. Nato must not turn a blind eye to this. Albanians and Serbs alike would be the long-term losers if the tables are indeed now turned.

The KLA - whose leaders are no democratic angels, though not quite the "terrorists" that the United States once labelled them - is now the only show in town. Partly because of Western foolishness, the once-popular moderate Kosovo leader, Ibrahim Rugova, has long since been sidelined. The KLA, which counted for little until only a year ago, is top of the Kosovo heap.

That gives little immediate reason to rejoice. But the advantage of dealing with the KLA is that they - in sharp contrast to the Serbs - remain eager to enjoy a good relationship with the West. This provides a useful carrot and stick combined.

Serbs remain almost impervious to blame. It will probably be many years before Serb history books can bring themselves to admit the crimes committed in Kosovo in Serbia's name. For the moment, the three-fingered salute of the departing Serb soldiers has been the equivalent of holding up two fingers to the rest of the world.

Putting pressure on the KLA is easier - and just as essential. Nato forces stood by this week as Albanians looted and burnt a Serb village in Kosovo. This disastrous failure cannot be repeated. Serbs should not simply be encouraged to return to their homes. They must receive guarantees that they will be safe if they choose to do so. If they have not committed crimes, then they should be able to pick up their lives once more, without fear. Anything else would be a dereliction of duty by the Nato forces.

The West has spent billions of pounds on fighting the war. Now, there is a reluctance to follow the military victory through by winning the peace. European foreign ministers yesterday expressed "alarm" at the exodus of Serbs from their homes, and "urged" them to return. But such weasel words count for nothing. The KLA must commit itself to the aim of allowing the Serbs to return. The West is in a strong position to force the Albanian side to take such a stance. Failure to do so would destroy any hope of genuine stability in the years to come.

Continued intolerance will be only a recipe for violence that will re- erupt into the indefinite future. If we fail to learn that lesson in time for the beginning of the 21st century, then we have learnt nothing.