Assault On The Serbs: Muslims cheer from the sidelines

World Viewpoint
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The Independent Online
FOR ONCE, the Muslim world was not denouncing a Western military campaign yesterday. Nato was springing to the defence of a mainly Muslim nation after all. Pakistan, ever the opportunist in issues of propaganda, said the Kosovo conflict was like its own decades-old feud with India over Kashmir. It chastised the United Nations for failing to support Nato, which was acting in the interests of "international peace and security".

Iraq denounced the raids. While Macedonia, Serbia's southern neighbour, saw the biggest and most vociferous anti-Western protests on Wednesday and yesterday, it was doubts about Italy's resolve that will cause the alliance the most worry.

Prodded hard by fiercely anti-interventionist leftists, Italy's Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, abruptly announced that it was "time for force to give way to diplomacy", while proclaiming a state of emergency in the southern region of Puglia, in readiness for an expected influx of Kosovo refugees fleeing fighting and ethnic cleansing. The remark caused consternation at Nato headquarters, as Italy is central to the alliance campaign for reasons of geography. It has 11 Nato bases, and hundreds of allied planes and ships are using them to stage bombing and reconnaissance sorties.

There was more disapproval from Serbia's Orthodox co-religionists. In Ukraine, Kiev said it stood firmly in favour of a peaceful solution. "Air strikes will lead to nothing good - this is my deep conviction," Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk said, en route to Belgrade on a mission to kick-start political talks on Kosovo's future. And in Greece parliament announced an emergency debate on the crisis to be held last night. "It is time to go back to political dialogue to seek a political solution to the problem and to stop the bombing," a government spokesman said. Another Orthodox country, Greece was Slobodan Milosevic's only diplomatic ally in the West during the 1992 to 1995 war with the Bosnian Muslims.

Police in Athens increased security around US diplomatic compounds and other American sites amid mounting public anger over the attacks. A demonstration planned for last night was expected to draw thousands of people along a route leading to the embassy.

China, India and North Korea led the chorus of opposition for reasons of state - a deep suspicion of the United States and a visceral hostility to the principle of Nato interfering in a sovereign state.

Speaking in Geneva, China's President, Jiang Zemin, said:"Military actions against Kosovo and other parts of Yugoslavia violate the norms governing international relations."

In Germany, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's left-wing partners increased the pressure on Berlin to pull out of the campaign, playing on widespread unease at taking part in an attack for first time since the Second World War.

But as a minority within the junior coalition partner, the pacifist Greens members lack the influence to force Mr Schroeder to ground German Tornado warplanes.

France has traditionally been the awkward partner, and has strong ties to Serbia. But yesterday in an urgent debate on Kosovo, the Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, stood firm. "The target is not a people, but a repressive military system," he said.