We must send in troops to stop the killing in Kosovo

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The Independent Culture
JUST BEFORE Christmas, Veran Matic, director of the independent Belgrade radio station B92, met the American special envoy to the Balkans, Richard Holbrooke, and asked him why he continued to talk to Slobodan Milosevic. Holbrooke replied that there was no credible opposition leader. Matic replied that what was important was not individual leaders but support for a broad range of democratic initiatives to build an alternative public opinion.

In wars, it is always the democratic groups committed to peaceful methods of managing conflict that get squeezed. War is polarising - there is no space for democratic initiatives. Nowhere is this more true than in Kosovo, where 10 years of non-violent resistance by Kosovan Albanians to Serbian repression failed to gain international support. Within Kosovo, the peaceful approach has lost legitimacy. The international community's task to find a political solution has been much harder since the war began.

The political positions of both Milosevic and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) depend on their uncompromising stance and, indeed, on continuing violence. It is hard to see how the KLA could ever give up its demand for independence, or how Milosevic could ever concede more than token limited autonomy (after all, it was he who took away the province's autonomy in 1989). Moreover, the international community cannot even fulfil its role as mediator because of its own distaste for independence, for fear of further fragmentation.

The escalation of the violence is reminiscent of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina. The international community is reluctant to intervene militarily and pin its hopes on the success of political negotiations, which are always elusive. The humanitarian crisis and media attention slowly drag them into the conflict, however. In the autumn, after the plight of Albanians driven from their homes and living in woods was publicised, the international community threatened air strikes on Serbia and succeeded in negotiating a ceasefire and partial withdrawal of Serbian troops, to be monitored by unarmed verifiers under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation In Europe (OSCE).

The verifiers are even weaker than the peacekeepers were in Bosnia; they are particularly dependent on Serbian goodwill. Meanwhile, the political talks were supposed to continue. But they have got nowhere and, as in Bosnia, the very act of negotiation helps to legitimise the warring parties and further sideline moderate democratic voices; a stream of diplomats and politicians continue to visit Milosevic. Now the ceasefire is being eroded on both sides and Serbian forces are returning to the area in violation of the agreement.

The most likely scenario is that the war will continue, perhaps through several more broken ceasefires, with mostly civilian casualties, huge physical destruction to villages and infrastructure, and many refugees and displaced persons.

Moreover, it will be difficult to contain the violence to Kosovo. Conflict could escalate in Macedonia and Montenegro, even in Albania. To avoid this scenario a change of strategy towards Kosovo is needed. There should be no talk of a political settlement before a ceasefire is firmly established and normal life has begun to return to the province.

This was, after all, the British government's approach to Northern Ireland; there was no question of involving the IRA in talks about Northern Ireland's political future before a ceasefire had been convincingly established. Milosevic is as much of a terrorist as Gerry Adams or Adam Demaci (the KLA spokesman) - if not more so.

Talks should focus on establishing a meaningful ceasefire enforced by peacekeeping troops under OSCE auspices who would also be responsible, as in Bosnia, for controlling weapons stores and for demilitarisation. The forces should be commanded by Europeans, probably British or French. There should be a token Russian presence to satisfy the Serbs and, if possible, a token US presence to satisfy the British who do not want to commit ground troops without this. At the same time, the "extraction force" that is currently based in Macedonia, under Nato auspices, should be expanded and renamed a "deterrent force" to intervene in the event that the ceasefire breaks down.

The initiative for this change of strategy would have to be taken by the Europeans. The Americans are unwilling to commit ground troops and the only form of military action they are prepared to take, as in Iraq and as was threatened earlier against Serbia, is air strikes.

But air strikes are notoriously counterproductive, especially if they are not followed through by ground troops. They provide an excuse for cracking down on the opposition and they increase support for extreme positions. The threat of air strikes in the autumn provided justification for closing down some independent media and the repressive university law, as well as making things difficult for aid organisations.

It also hardened opinion, not only in Serbia but in Republika Srbska as well. European governments have been pioneering a new approach to peace-enforcement that contrasts with the American preoccupation with bombing. The British Defence Review is innovative in the way that it reorients British armed forces to contingencies of the Bosnia and Kosovo type.

Moreover, this kind of thinking is not confined to the British. The Danes developed their own strategic concept during the Bosnian war and were very effective at enforcing humanitarian corridors and even eliminating Serbian tanks. A strategy of this kind has to be combined with a political effort to support and build up democratic alternatives in Serbia as well as Kosovo and indeed in the whole Balkan region.

Milosevic needs to be isolated, not courted, by the international community, and indicted by the war crimes tribunal. The indictment of Radovan Karadzic did help open up new political perspectives in Bosnia. The international community needs to talk to and support the democrats, whoever they are and however marginal they appear today.

Those engaged in the fighting have to stop the violence, but they will never be able to find a lasting solution. In the end, it is independent- minded citizens such as Veran Matic and others who will create a situation where peace can be constructed.

Mary Kaldor's `New and Old Wars: Organised Violence in a Global Era' is published this month by Polity Press, price pounds 39.50 hardback, pounds 12.95 paperback