We ignore the problems of the Balkans at our peril

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In Tony Blair's leaked "what-policy-shall-we-invent-today?" memo, Kosovo received a mention - as a tick on the list, and a reason for self-congratulation. In reality, there is no reason for self-congratulation. Everything possible has gone wrong.

In Tony Blair's leaked "what-policy-shall-we-invent-today?" memo, Kosovo received a mention - as a tick on the list, and a reason for self-congratulation. In reality, there is no reason for self-congratulation. Everything possible has gone wrong.

The bombing of Kosovo last year represented an acknowledgement that tough action was essential to keep the problems from spiralling into yet further violent chaos. Now, though, the West seems eager to look the other way.

Some of the problems are associated with the bombing last year. A group of Serbs are seeking to sue Nato because they lost relatives in the notorious bombing of Belgrade TV (while other relatives want to sue representatives of the regime that, they feel, deliberately put lives at risk). Above all, however, it has been the aftermath of the war that has shown an abdication of moral responsibility. Kosovo was filed away under the category Success Stories - with disastrous results.

The situation of Serbs in Kosovo - including entirely innocent Serbs - became intolerable. It is shameful that the West has done so little to curb the KLA-sponsored thugs who believe that murdering Serbs is a good way of spending an afternoon. George Robertson, the Nato secretary general, appealed during a visit to Kosovo yesterday for Serbs to register for elections. But the climate of fear is such that only a handful looks set to vote. All this matters not just for moral reasons; it is also at the heart of continued, dangerous instability.

In Belgrade, meanwhile, President Milosevic is still firmly ensconced, one year on. An internal EU report suggests that he is the country's "most trusted leader". Under recent changes to the constitution, Milosevic's lease on political life looks longer than ever. He can stay in power for an extra two terms. In addition, Montenegro - the smaller of the two Yugoslav republics - has been stripped of most of its voting powers. Montenegro's pro-Western president, Milo Djukanovic, is thus caught between a rock and a very hard place. If Montenegro stays in the Yugoslav federation, Milosevic can call all the shots. If Montenegro seeks to break away, there will almost certainly be a bloody civil war. That, in turn, would unleash yet more mayhem throughout the Balkans.

All of this is looming on a none-too-distant horizon. Meanwhile, the British Government chooses to look the other way. In due course, apocalypse tomorrow may force it to wake up. By then, however, it may prove to be too late.

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