World

To Keep the

Tom Fennell June 21 1999
World

To Keep the

Tom Fennell June 21 1999

To Keep the

World

Tom Fennell

As a veteran peacekeeper, Maj. Paul Fleury is no stranger to hostile foreign terrain. But last week, as he stood in the scalding sun near the Kosovo border watching his troops load ammunition into their green Coyote armoured vehicles, he knew his assignment would be the most dangerous yet. Fleury and the troops he is commanding from the Edmonton-based Lord Strathconas Horse Regiment were among the 200 Canadians that crossed with a huge convoy of British armour into Kosovo on Saturday to help open a critical corridor allowing thousands of NATO soldiers to fan out across Serbia’s war-torn southern province. The Coyote crews, peering from behind machine-guns, were on the lookout for stragglers from the retreating Yugoslav army, and filed critical reconnaissance information back to the main force. A determined Fleury bluntly told Macleans that even if they come under heavy fire, “we intend to enforce the peace.”

The uncertain peace that took Fleury into Kosovo was reached one stifling night last week in a camouflaged tent on a muddy military base in neighbouring Macedonia. After 78 straight days of bombing, and five days of tortuous on-again-off-again talks, the opposing Yugoslav and NATO commanders finally emerged with a deal. Dressed in green batde fatigues, both claimed victory. Nearly 5,000 Serbian soldiers may have died in the conflict that began on March 24, and NATO warplanes have unquestionably devastated his country’s economy, but Yugoslav Gen. Svetozar Marjanovic still insisted: “President Slobodan Milosevic has won.” Then, he stepped into the darkness as NATO’s ground commander, Lt.Gen. Mike Jackson of Britain, made it clear that the enemy was in lull retreat. The Yugoslavs had just 11 days to get out of Kosovo. “If the withdrawal timetable is breached,” warned Jackson, “air operations will resume.”

NATO may have won the war without suffering a sin-

gle combat casualty, but now it will have to win the peace—and that could take decades at a cost of what experts estimate at $50 billion. Not only must the alliance return almost one million ethnic Albanians to what is | left of their homes, it must continue to balance competing political interests in the region that threatened to £ spin out of control just hours after peace was declared. I Early Saturday morning,

Foreign turf

Kosovo peacekeeping sectors

against all promises of a united advance, a column of Russian armour and 200 Russian troops jumped the gun and rolled into Kosovo where Serbian civilians gave them a rousing welcome in the province’s capital of Pristina. Under the terms of the pact, Kosovo has been carved up into five regions, each controlled by a NATO country. But Russia, which was instrumental in negotiating an end to the war, wants its own sector to police in Kosovo. “It’s very important the Russians came first,” said Miroslav Dancetovic, 18. “They are on our side, while NATO openly supports the Albanian side.” Throughout the Kosovo crisis, top Russian officials including President Boris Yeltsin have talked tough but avoided a direct confrontation with NATO. However, hardliners in the defence ministry have pushed for a stronger response. “Russia,” said its foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, “will not take part with a second-rate standing.” Political intrigue in Moscow is not the only threat to Kosovo’s future. Analysts warn the peace accord itself may yet come back to haunt the alliance. Unlike the

The fragile accord that stopped the bombing of Jugoslavia could be very good news for President Slobodan Milosevic

rejected package the major powers offered Milosevic in Rambouillet, France, in early March, the new pact could ultimately force NATO to contain the Kosovo Liberation Army on behalf of Serbia. Under Rambouillet, citizens of Kosovo were to vote on whether to become independent, but under the NATO plan adopted by the United Nations last week, Kosovo remains part of Serbia. As a result, says Aurel Braun, a professor of international relations at the University of Toronto, NATO could be tied down as both sides renew their battle for control. “Sadly,” adds Braun, “few people are asking questions about the larger policy issues.”

In fact, narrower points almost derailed the peace talks when the Yugoslav generals first met their NATO counterparts in Macedonia. The Yugoslavs wanted to ensure that troops from Russia, Belgrade’s longtime Slavic ally, would be involved in the peacekeeping force and that the force would operate under the auspices of the UN. They walked away from the bargaining table when no agreement was reached. The Group of Eight industrialized countries, including Russia, then huddled in Cologne, Germany, for two days and hammered out some delicate modifications. The Canadian

delegation left Cologne enthused. “Good faith went a long way,” said one Canadian official. “That’s all they needed.”

Under the new pact, Russia agreed to allocate as many as 10,000 soldiers to the 50,000-strong peacekeeping force, which NATO would command under the auspices of the United Nations. NATO then suspended its bombing campaign, allowing the UN Security Council to pass a resolution accepting the pact, and peacekeepers from 23 countries were deployed across Kosovo. If the Serbs complete their withdrawal as planned, the province will be ringed by a fivekilometre demilitarized buffer zone along its border. It will also be divided into five sectors, each controlled by a major power—Italy, France, Germany, Britain and the United States.

And just as Canada’s 800 troops in Macedonia prepared to push into Kosovo, Defence Minister Art Eggleton announced that Ottawa would send another 500. Most will come from the First Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry based in Edmonton. They are expected to quickly join up with the thousands of NATO troops, tanks and trucks that finally swept into Kosovo from Macedonia. NATO’s first task

was to secure the hillsides and the main road north to Pristina. The Russian troops already in Pristina did not appear to be a threat. “I’m sure,” said NATO commander Gen.

Wesley Clark, “that we’ll be able to work this out in the fashion that soldiers normally do.”

Ultimately, the international force will pave the way for the return of the nearly one million ethnic Albanians, either forced from their

homes or who fled in fear of the Serbs. The arrival of NATO troops on the weekend has already brought out many ethnic Albanians from hiding. “We are looking at a lot of internally displaced people,” said Fleury. “When we go in there, these people may feel more secure and come out of the hills where they have been hiding.”

That could cause other concerns. With the Yugoslav army in retreat, many Serbs in Kosovo fear reprisals from the KLA.

Prior to the bombing campaign, there were only 180,000 Serbs living in Kosovo compared with nearly two million ethnic Albanians. In the agreement, NATO promised to demilitarize the KLA, which since the early 1990s has been battling for complete independence from Yugoslavia. Last week, KLA leader Hashim Thaci insisted the group would not attack Serbian troops as they withdrew. But, he added, “we will defend ourselves as necessary.”

Even with the KLA returning, it will be hard for many Serbs to leave Kosovo, the spiritual birthplace of modern Serbia. At a small rally last week near Pristina, Serbian Orthodox Archbishop Artemije urged those attending to stay or risk losing their sacred territory. “Whatever happens to us,” he implored, “stay in your homes, in your villages.”

Those that do stay will have to confront their former neighbours as they return from refugee camps and Refugee Kupina: Til go back’ from far off countries. Canada accepted 5,000 ethnic Albanian refugees, and most are staying at military bases across the country. Astrit Guija, 31, who is billeted north of Toronto at CFB Borden, spoke for many when he told Macleans-. “I want my life, my country back.”

Like Guija, Amida Kupina, 15, was living a happy life in Kosovo. She was studying classical piano in Pristina, but now Amida and 19 members of her family reside at the Borden barracks. As she tried to learn how to Rollerblade, she described how her eight-bedroom house in Kosovo was

torched—and how homesick she is. “I miss everything,” says Amida. “I’ll go back the first chance I get. I’m determined, even if my house is burned down.”

The international war crimes tribunal, led by Canadian chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, wants to look for evidence that many less fortunate ethnic Albanians were murdered before reaching the refugee camps. It is poised to send teams of criminal investigators and forensic specialists into the disputed territory. Arbour has already charged Milosevic with war crimes and will stay on that case until the end of the summer when she assumes her new job as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. To help Arbour complete her current assignment, a team of forensic specialists is now being put together by RCMP Chief Supt. Peter Miller in Ottawa. Although there have been reports that Serbian troops tampered with grave sites in order to hide evidence of mass killings, Miller says they will not be able to completely sanitize such places. “Our people,” he adds, “are familiar in dealing with crime scenes that have been tampered with, especially at murder scenes where people like to clean up.” Unfortunately, cautions analyst Braun, Arbour’s desire to arrest Milosevic and other accused criminals may ultimately prove impossible. Under the Rambouillet accord, NATO would have been allowed into Serbia proper, where it could have arrested war criminals. But under the new provisions adopted by the United Nations, NATO’s turf is limited to Kosovo. “Basically,” says Braun, “the current agreement gives Milosevic a safe haven.” While the mood of most people was upbeat in Belgrade following the end of the bombing, many also seemed resigned to having Milosevic as their leader for years to come. “He will put on the garb of a peacemaker and reformer once again,” says Nebojsa Covic, a former Belgrade mayor and onetime ruling party official who now opposes Milosevic. “He will instigate fear. He will create new hot spots.” And for the moment, that strategy will likely help keep the dictator who has thoroughly entangled the West in the Balkans firmly in power.

Bruce Wallace

Suian Oh

Svetlana Djurdjevic