Torment of Kosovo as Nato dithers

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The Independent Online
THE WESTERN allies were in disarray over Kosovo last night as Serbian troops advanced on the Kosovo Liberation Army and thousands more ethnic Albanians were forced to flee their homes to escape the violence and shelling.

The Serbs kept up their violent onslaught on towns and villages in central Kosovo, ignoring pleas from the European Union and the US for a ceasefire, and warnings from aid agencies of an impending humanitarian disaster. Thousands of civilian refugees were reported to be hiding out in woods near Malisevo, a former stronghold of the KLA.

But sharp political divisions over a military response were also exposed as Nato officials in Brussels contradicted a claim from US state department spokesman James Rubin that contingency plans for armed intervention had been approved. "There has been no approval. There is a plan but it is still being refined and only when that has been done will there be approval. Even then force remains only an option," officials at Nato headquarters in Brussels said.

At the end of May Nato foreign ministers ordered military chiefs to start planning for armed intervention in Kosovo but while the logistical preparations for all the possible options, including air strikes and deployment of ground troops, are advanced, diplomats concede that it has proved impossible to nail down political agreement.

"There is no agreement within the political community either about what is really going on in Kosovo. or what to do," said one senior source.

Pressure from European members of the transatlantic alliance for force to be put on hold as an option has grown since May. Some governments - particularly Germany - believe even limited armed intervention could be disastrously counterproductive.

But the Americans are in favour, and believe it could be done without authorisation from the UN security council, where a Russian veto is expected.

The KLA's guerrilla campaign against the Serbs has also complicated the picture on the ground. "We have got to be realistic," said one diplomatic source. "It is not as easy as saying let's go in there and sort out these cowboys and we'll shoot the guys in the black hats . Who do you shoot, what do you bomb and will any of this help?

"There are no clear borderlines, and what do you do to avoid civilian casualties? None of these questions have been resolved."

Thousands flee, page 11

Paddy Ashdown, Review, page 5