The seeds of betrayal

A 'peace deal' that would send the ethnic Albanians back to their tormentors must be condemned
Click to follow
The Independent Online
hat has the war in Kosovo has been for? The massacres, the dispossession, the man-hunts by masked militia, the burning of houses, the victory songs of the paramilitaries as Albanians leave their village? We now know. The war has been fought so that the Albanians can remain under the sovereignty of Serbia - just like nothing ever happened. That is the only possible construction you can place on Mr Clinton's pronouncement when he landed in Frankfurt last week: that the Albanians are entitled to the autonomy "that Mr (sic) Tito gave them and that Mr Milosevic took away 10 years ago". Brilliant. The Belgrade government gets to keep Kosovo, the Albanians, if they're lucky, get to go back home, just as though the events of the past six weeks - or rather, the events of the past nine months - didn't really count.

And of course no one asks the Albanians. The foreign ministers of the G8 group of nations, which includes Russia, met last week to cobble together the outlines of a peace deal. It will mean life or death, return or exile, to the Albanians, but they weren't asked what they thought. Their job will be to sign it.

Anyway, now, of course, less attention than ever is being paid to the Albanians, on whose behalf we went to war. The Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy has seen to that. Just like the make-up lady, whose death in the bombing of the Serbian television station was so movingly described by John Simpson, the deaths on that little bit of Belgrade which is Chinese territory has, at a stroke, overshadowed the human train of the ethnically cleansed still making their way from Kosovo. For papers like this one, there is a curious kind of moral astigmatism, whereby a few score of unintended and regretted deaths by Nato can somehow loom as large as the unseen and systematic murder which is taking place within Kosovo now. You don't have that perspective when you stand at a border crossing watching the survivors of the cleansing, as I have. Some of the women will grab you by the arm as they pass and, crying, will try to tell you in a jumbled and incoherent way about the killings that went on in their street. Some of them don't even do it in words. I remember one old lady trying to convey what happened when Gjakova was cleansed. She did it by drawing her hand across her throat and circling her eye with her finger, to show how the men were killed, and the bodies mutilated. Another poor woman, who saw paramilitaries take away her seven sons, she doesn't know where, didn't talk so much as cry. And yet those stories, any single one of which is more shocking than that of the bereaved Chinese diplomats, seem not to count in the scale of moral indignation which calibrates the strength of statements from the UN Security Council.

And what is the peace that the diplomatic community will thrust on those Albanians? The statement from the G8 ministers about the new peace plan promised "a political process toward the establishment of an interim political framework agreement providing for a substantial self-government for Kosovo, taking full account of the Rambouillet accords and the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the other countries of the region".

Can I just translate that? It means that Slobodan Milosevic has won, at least, diplomatically. It means that the efforts of the Albanians to win the right for Kosovo to break free of the control of Belgrade, just like the other parts of Yugoslavia did, have been all in vain. It means that the Albanians will be asked to sign up all over again to the rotten deal they got at Rambouillet, even though, since then, 875,000 of them have been expelled from Kosovo's borders and tens of thousands of them have been killed. And when I say killed, I don't just mean killed inadvertently, like the Serbian civilians who have died in the Nato bombing. I mean killed close-up, knife to throat, and pistol to head, by the agents of the civil authority which they are now being asked to rejoin.

So it was for this we bombed Belgrade, Nis, Novi Sad, Podgorica? For this? The sheer disparity between our means and our ends, let alone between our rhetoric and our peace plan, takes the breath away. No one ever promised that our endgame was independence for Kosovo, or even the patently sensible solution of a protectorate, but the blazing moral indignation of our politicians about the nature of the Serbian regime makes it seem, to say the least, incongruous, that at the end of this war, Kosovo should be, constitutionally, back where it was in February and that Slobodan Milosevic will be as far from being hauled before the International War Crimes Tribunal as he was seven weeks ago.

Just a week ago I stood at the border crossing at Bozai, where Montenegro meets Albania; beside me there was a little Catholic priest from Kosovo, Fr Nike Ukgjini. We were watching the refugees: a young woman carrying her twins in two baby bags; an old lady in traditional baggy trousers, with a stick in one hand and a plastic basin under her arm; a dozen gypsies with shabby suitcases. The spectacle was utterly commonplace, but it distressed the priest. He said in a soft voice, looking at them: "I am afraid that this is just a diplomatic game." He was right.

But the trouble with this diplomatic game is precisely that it leaves out of account the proposed beneficiaries. A few days ago, I talked to some refugees from the region of Skanderai, and I asked them whether they could ever accept autonomy under the Serbs - as opposed, say, to an international protectorate followed by self-determination. They just laughed at me.

Autonomy was all very well, they said, back in February, but look what happened since then. A month ago, they'd watched from the hills while their village was cleansed, while 150 of its inhabitants - those too old or too sick to flee - had been shot by the Serbian paramilitaries.

These men were quite categoric about the circumstances in which they were prepared to go back to that village: under armed Nato protection. Well, they're promised an armed force all right, but I wonder what they'll make of the proposed American concession, which is that in any peacekeeping force, the Nato and non-Nato troops would be under separate command: one area, presumably under Russian-Ukrainian control, another area under American- British control. Guess where the Albanians won't be able to return? And, from the G8 statement it isn't even clear whether those peacekeepers will be lightly armed just for their own protection as in Bosnia, or in such a way as to be able to protect the returning refugees. And while it is quite certain that the KLA will be disarmed, John Speller, the Defence minister, has just been talking lightly about allowing a "token" Serbian military force to remain in Kosovo.

I can't think of anyone who has the moral authority to sign away Albanian aspirations to independence now who wouldn't be disowned, or assassinated by the people on whose behalf he did so. Not Ibrahim Rugova, leader of the constitutional LDK party, certainly not Hashim Thaci, the KLA leader. And it's not much good talking to them about the benefits of compromise: they've already tried that. For most of the past 10 years, since Kosovo's autonomy was taken away by Mr Milosevic, the Albanians followed Ibrahim Rugova in his very un-Balkan policy of peaceful resistance to Belgrade.

It's all very well for this paper to tell the Albanians that there is a better way than war. At Rambouillet even the KLA signed up to a flawed peace plan. Are they really expected to do so again? There is an alternative. It is to prosecute this war effectively, using ground troops, with the objective of establishing an international protectorate, ultimately independent of Belgrade. The Nato bombing campaign did not start the Serb campaign of ethnic cleansing but the refusal of Western governments to deploy troops on the ground, or to arm the KLA, or both has ensured that it was never effectively checked. The endgame of such a war, eventual independence, would not mean that every ethnic minority in the Balkans would thereby win the right to change the borders of its state. Kosovo was a federal unit in the old Yugoslavia, and that gives its population a constitutional claim to self-determination which other groups do not have.

As it stands, this nascent peace plan deserves to fail. It rewards ethnic cleansing, disregards the aspirations of the Albanians, and establishes Slobodan Milosevic as a kind of Balkan Houdini, the man who gets away with murder. It does not warrant the destruction of Serbia, or the spilling of Albanian blood. It is an end that simply does not justify our means.