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Thursday, September 24, 1998 Published at 23:41 GMT 00:41 UK

World: Europe

Nato's time to act?

Does the international community have the will to back threats with action?

With mounting warnings that Kosovo is on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, Nato has announced it is stepping up plans for possible airstrikes to halt attacks by Serbian forces against ethnic Albanian civilians in the province.

Nato Spokesman, Jamie Shea: Nato already has plans to send ground forces to Kosovo
Nato took its signal from the UN Security Council which on Wednesday issued a resolution demanding a ceasefire between the Serb authorities and ethnic Albanian separatist forces to observe a ceasefire.

The UN resolution warned of "further action and additional measures" if the ceasefire call is ignored, but it stopped short of specifically threatening military action

"Milosevic ignores this at his peril," said Britain's ambassador to the UN.


British Ambassador to the UN, Alan Greenstock: "Milosevic ignores this at his peril"
But correspondents say the international political will to intervene decisively in the Kosovo conflict is still far from firm.

[ image: More than a quarter of a million have been made homeless]
More than a quarter of a million have been made homeless
The United States and the European Union have been in open disagreement over intervention with Washington complaining that Europe was not taking the situation seriously enough.

There are conflicting interpretations of Wednesday's UN resolution, which makes explicit reference to Chapter Seven of the organisation's charter: the Kosovo crisis is now officially defined as a threat to regional peace and stability.

Nato's more hawkish nations, such as the United States, argue that the resolution should in itself be grounds for possible intervention.

France, on the other hand, thinks another - final - resolution would be necessary before that stage was reached.

For his part, while conceding that such a resolution would be desirable, the German Defence Minister, Volker Ruehe, said it was by no means indispensable.

Outside Nato, meanwhile, Russia has consistently voiced its opposition to the use of force.

Such differences among the countries which could bring pressure to bear on Belgrade have in the past diluted the deterrent effect of any warnings they have issued.

Sense of resolve emerging

[ image: There is a feeling that the Serbs have taken advantage of western reluctance to intervene]
There is a feeling that the Serbs have taken advantage of western reluctance to intervene
The BBC Correspondent at the Nato meeting which issued the warning, Andre Vornic, says that while differences certainly exist between members, a common sense of resolve over Kosovo appears nevertheless to be emerging.

The Alliance's Secretary-General, Javier Solana, is quoted as saying that President Milosevic was wrong to think that "[razing] one village a day would keep NATO away."

Beren Gecaj of the Kosovo Crisis Committee: "We really need concrete action"
While further decisions will be needed before launching an attack, the issuing of a formal "force activation warning" is the furthest Nato has so far gone in readying its forces.

The message being sent to the Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is clear.

Yet if his previous track-record is anything to go by, Mr Milosevic is likely to turn a deaf ear to such warnings.

Bosnian parallels

Bosnian Ambassador to the UN, Mohammed Sacirbey: Backsliding of political responsibilities tends to have negative consequences
Some have seen parallels with the international community's much criticised handling of the Bosnia conflict.

Steve Walker, a former US diplomat who resigned over his country's handling of the the Bosnian crisis, said: "Nato officials and Clinton administration officials keep trying to say something that might seem a little more serious."

"If we wanted to take action against Milosevic, we could have done it months ago, and at relatively little notice."

Former US presidential candidate, Bob Dole, in an article in the Washington Post, also criticised the Clinton Administration for its reluctance to bring an end to the fighting.

The Milosevic he met in Belgrade, Mr Dole said, did not "act like a man cowering in fear of Nato action."

Rather he looked like a man "who had gotten away with murder, and would be rewarded for it."

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