Vilified Green leaders demand pause in air strikes

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The Independent Online
IN A hall ringed with razor wire and riot police, Germany's Greens searched in vain yesterday for an answer to their Kosovo dilemma, and came up with one that will leave all party factions displeased, and Nato unity in grave danger.

At the end of a stormy congress, Green delegates adopted a motion calling for a "unilateral pause" in Nato's bombing campaign, thus to encourage Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. Whether Joschka Fischer, the Foreign Minister, was bound by this resolution, was left open.

The vote concluded a heated debate over Germany's role, which saw Green members of the government booed, insulted and physically assaulted by militant pacifists. Mr Fischer, the chief target of their ire, was hit in the ear by a paint bomb.

The Greens had gathered at Bielefeld in the wake of their own government stumbling into Germany's first war for 54 years. The backdrop behind the rostrum proclaimed a deceptively simple slogan: "Combining peace and human rights". How those two honourable principles could survive the killing fields of Kosovo, they could not agree.

There were those on the pacifist wing who thought that stopping the bombing would work. Their view was crystallised in a motion calling for an "immediate and final stop to Nato's air raids".

"Nato's declared goal of preventing a humanitarian catastrophe has not been achieved," said Annelie Buntenbach, a pacifist MP. "On the contrary: the air raids have exacerbated and escalated the situation in Kosovo."

The atmosphere in the conference hall was explosive. Scuffles broke out from time to time, a male streaker, making a stand against "the murder in Kosovo", ran a few laps without anyone taking much notice, and the legendary revolutionary, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, was denounced as a demagogue. "Red Dany" had joined the war-party. "Even if it pains me, I will not abandon the victims of violence," he shouted above the din of outrage.

Mr Fischer could barely be heard when his turn came. He pleaded for understanding of his difficult position. A banner was thrust above, reminding him of a few memorable words he uttered in his days as a young firebrand: "With respect, minister, you are an arsehole."

Mr Fischer half-tried to engage in a dialogue with the opponents baying for his blood: "I ask you, dear friends, where do you get the confidence that, without massive military pressure, Milosevic will keep his word?" The Yugoslav President, he reminded delegates, had violated 18 ceasefires since 1993, and ignored 73 UN resolutions. Mr Fischer had tried to find peace. "Is there another government that has worked so hard to achieve a peaceful solution than the German government?" he asked.

He then dropped a thunder-clap: "If you pass a resolution calling for a unilateral stop to the bombing, without a time limit, I will not carry it out."

What that meant precisely was left to the delegates' imagination. Mr Fischer's people had been dropping hints that the Foreign Minister, the most popular Green politician in the country, was considering resignation from the government.

When Mr Fischer ended his speech, the delegates rose in unison to applaud him. That sudden shock of reality changed the mood, with speaker after speaker coming forward to urge support for the government. At the end of a convoluted voting process, the party presidium's compromise formula emerged victorious. Germany's Foreign Minister will now presumably be telling its Nato partners they should stop bombing for a while.

Mr Fischer had told delegates he could live with that, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroder had said he could live with a Foreign Minister representing that stance.

A happy ending? Not quite. "If we lose this debate, many of us will leave the party," Ultich Cremer, a pacifist, had told The Independent before the vote. "And if we win, others will leave the party. It is sad, but our differences can no longer be bridged."