War in the Balkans: War aim is protectorate in Kosovo, says Blair

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The Independent Online
ANY LAST prospect of a compromise end to the Balkan war vanished yesterday as Britain said Kosovo should be turned into a protectorate under the United Nations and other international bodies before moving to possible independence.

In separate but complementary statements, Tony Blair and the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, formally buried the Rambouillet package, which envisaged an autonomous Kosovo within Yugoslavia's present borders, and told President Slobodan Milosevic he had lost the province for good.

Addressing the annual meeting of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London, Mr Blair told Belgrade an international force would enter Kosovo "to secure the land for the people for whom it belongs". Not once did he mention partition, which has been mooted as a possible outcome, or even the most nominal sovereignty of Yugoslavia over the province as envisaged at Rambouillet: instead, he pledged "the dispossessed refugees of Kosovo will be brought back into possession of what is rightfully theirs". The Prime Minister's language is the clearest Western acknowledgement yet that, after its suffering, Kosovo's Albanian majority is entitled to self-determination.

Mr Cook set out the details in the Commons. Until democratic institutions had been rebuilt, he said, Kosovo would be administered by bodies including the UN, EU and Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which ran the ill-fated peace monitoring mission in Kosovo.

Reconstruction of the province, whose cost could top $10bn, would take the combined efforts of all these bodies, Mr Cook said. He expressed Britain's preference for a Security Council mandate that would turn Kosovo into a UN protectorate, which would also help to mend fences with Russia, a permanent member of the council, after the strains of recent weeks.

Those strains were again evident yesterday as Moscow accused Nato of plotting a land invasion of Kosovo, and President Boris Yeltsin said that he would not allow Mr Milosevic to be defeated and see Nato take de facto control of all Yugoslavia. Shortly before a phone conversation with President Bill Clinton in which he demanded an immediate end to the bombing, Mr Yeltsin said he could not abandon Mr Milosevic: "Bill Clinton hopes that ... Milosevic will capitulate, give up the whole of Yugoslavia. We will not allow this; this is a strategic place," Itar-Tass quoted Mr Yeltsin as saying.

Officially the allies deny any intention of toppling Mr Milosevic directly (though they hope the Serbian people will do it for them) and rule out a land war. The air campaign would continue "and we are winning", George Robertson, Secretary of State for Defence, said.

That will remain the Nato line at least until after this weekend's summit in Washington, where any move in public to press a ground campaign could produce an embarrassing and open split among the 19 member-countries.

Increasingly, however, and even before the air war has produced a decisive breakthrough, the West is starting to turn to the problem of rebuilding the Balkans once the conflict is over. In his speech to the EBRD - which was set up to help finance the transition of former Communist East Europe to market democracy - Mr Blair told his audience of bankers and politicians from the region that the reconstruction task would be massive. In Athens, the Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou, called for a "mini-Marshall Plan" to help Balkan economies recover.

Yesterday Croatia, Hungary and Bulgaria said the crisis, by hitting investment and tourism throughout the region, already would reduce economic growth by 1 per cent or more. Apart from the $10bn (pounds 6.25bn) or more bill in Kosovo itself, where entire towns and villages have been destroyed and industry and agriculture are in ruins, Nato leaders accept that a post- Milosevic Yugoslavia will need billions of dollars to rebuild bombed industry and infrastructure.

Next week EU foreign ministers meet their counterparts from Albania and Macedonia to study a boost in immediate and medium-term aid to the two countries bearing the brunt of the refugee crisis.