Report / Europe & Central Asia 3 minutes

Again, the Visible Hand

Kosovo, an impoverished region at the southern tip of Serbia, is drawing ineluctably closer to war with each passing day.

Executive Summary

Kosovo, an impoverished region at the southern tip of Serbia, is drawing ineluctably closer to war with each passing day.

By night, men smuggle guns and ammunition from Albania to an Albanian militia determined to wrest Kosovo away from Serbia.  The militia's fighters, angered by years of Serbian police violence against Kosovo's 90-percent Albanian majority, have killed Serbian police officers and murdered Albanians deemed to be loyal to the Serbian state.

The Serbian police attempted to neutralise the Albanian militia in March by mounting attacks on Albanian villages that left scores of civilians dead and brought a storm of international condemnation.  For a time, the police hunkered down in their stations and checkpoints, while Yugoslav Army commandos entered the fray, killing several dozen Albanian arms smugglers during gun battles near the border.  Over the May Day holiday weekend, however, police troops reportedly re-engaged Albanian villages with mortar fire.[fn]VIP Daily News Report, 28 April, 1998, p. 2; Nasa Borba, 4 May, 1998, p. 1.Hide Footnote

A centuries-old conflict between the Serbs and Albanians for control of Kosovo lies at the heart of the present trouble.  But the political dynamics in Serbia and in Montenegro, Serbia's partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, have also driven the latest violence in the troubled region.

Specifically, the political position of Serbia's leader, Slobodan Milosevic, is weakening. The reach of his authority has never been more limited. The breakdown of the country's economy has put him under financial pressure. He is facing an open rebellion by the government of Montenegro. In response, Milosevic is scrambling to strengthen himself by exploiting the Kosovo violence and demands by the Contact Group countries -- the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, Italy, and Germany -- that he sit down at a negotiating table with Albanian leaders and work out a new modus vivendi for their peoples. The Serbian leader has answered the Contact Group's demands with a mixture of defiance and compliance. He has appealed to the Serbian people's sense of defiance and national honour to firm up his crumbling popularity. He has welcomed nationalist extremists into Serbia's government. He has publicly rejected any outside participation in talks with the Albanians even as the Albanian militia strives to provoke new police violence.

This International Crisis Group (ICG) report describes the complex political forces at work in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and examines how they are propelling Kosovo toward war. The report, prepared by an ICG field analyst based in Belgrade, attempts to explain why Milosevic has so far opted to ignore the seemingly compelling logic of peace and adopted a confrontational policy toward Kosovo's Albanians and the Contact Group. The report also shows how the disunity of the Contact Group has wasted crucial time, and it projects future short-term developments in Kosovo by carrying forward the thrust of the logic inherent in the present positions of Milosevic and Kosovo's Albanians.

Finally, the report recommends that the United Nations Security Council, the Contact Group countries, and the nations of the NATO alliance consider the deployment of NATO forces in Albania along the borders with Kosovo and Macedonia in order to slow the flow of weapons to the Albanian militia, to prevent the Kosovo conflict from spreading, and to facilitate timely and effective action should military intervention become necessary. The report also recommends that, if Belgrade does not enter into a substantive dialogue with Kosovo's Albanians within three or four weeks, the Contact Group nations and other countries interested in contributing to a resolution of the Kosovo dispute should take steps to weaken the levers by which Milosevic controls his political machine, including the mustering of their intelligence resources to locate, freeze, or confiscate Milosevic's personal overseas assets, including the financial assets of Serbian oil companies, banks, other enterprises closely linked with the regime.

Kosovo's Albanian leaders and the Kosovo Liberation Army should also begin to feel the pressure of the international community. The report recommends that the governments of the United States, the European Union nations, and the member-states of the NATO alliance, overtly and covertly, apply pressure on Albanian émigré organisations to stop financing armed groups in Kosovo. These governments should summon their intelligence and law-enforcement assets to identify and, if possible, prosecute Albanians and other individuals suspected of involvement in the illegal acquisition and shipment of weapons to Albanian militants in Kosovo.

Belgrade, 6 May 1998

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