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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK

What the West wants to achieve

Diplomacy - backed by force

Diplomatic Correspondent Barnaby Mason looks at the political aims behind Nato's threat of military action over Kosovo:

Western governments have insisted that the aim of any Nato air strikes would not be to punish the Serbs but to compel a withdrawal of repressive forces from Kosovo and pave the way for a political settlement of the territory's status.

Putting western aircraft under operational Nato command was a political as well as a military act.

[ image:  ]
The theory is that it gives extra muscle to the diplomatic efforts of the American envoy, Richard Holbrooke. It enables him to prove once and for all that Nato means business.

Should that not be enough, the plan provides for further opportunities for talking even after the first round of air strikes. As the old quote has it, war is the continuation of diplomacy by other means.

But it would also be a venture into unknown territory. No-one can predict the effect of force - on Mr Milosevic, on the Yugoslav military, on Serb emotions. The difficulty of deciding what to do next if air strikes do not make him back down have been well rehearsed.

Two political aims

There are two basic political objectives:

  • Avoiding thousands of deaths in the winter by enabling ethnic Albanian civilians to return home

  • Arriving at a political deal between their leaders and the Serbs on autonomy for Kosovo short of independence.

The big powers rule out independence because of fears that it would destabilise next-door Macedonia with its big Albanian minority and drag other countries into a wider Balkan war.

[ image:  ]
The possible constitutional shape of Kosovo has been sketched out by American negotiators and approved by the other five members of the Contact Group, including Russia. They have not published the proposals.

Officials say the document is constantly changing, and that in any case it is only a stimulus to negotiation between the two sides, not a blueprint.

An Albanian-language newspaper in Pristina, Koha Ditore, published what it said were some of the main elements; at the very least, they indicate the key areas which have to be decided.

A newly-autonomous Kosovo would, it seems, have its own government, parliament and judiciary. According to the newspaper, the Federal Yugoslav authorities would retain responsibility only for monetary policy, foreign affairs and defence.

The role of Yugoslav army units stationed in Kosovo is clearly controversial: for example, would they have powers of arrest? Even more sensitive is the concept of a new police force reflecting the ethnic make-up of the territory.

Best hope

The present force is entirely Serb, but the population is 90% ethnic Albanians; they think that should be the balance in the police. The interior minister, the newspaper says, would be Albanian with a Serb deputy.

[ image: Kosovo: The suffering continues]
Kosovo: The suffering continues
Western officials say the Contact Group has not taken a view on whether Kosovo should remain part of Serbia, or be granted the status of a separate Yugoslav Republic alongside Serbia and Montenegro.

The Serbs are bitterly opposed to any weakening of their link with Kosovo.

At the other end of the scale is the Kosovo Liberation Army, which won't discuss anything but independence.

The best hope appears to be an agreement between Serb and ethnic Albanian political leaders to some form of self-government that leaves the ultimate status of Kosovo unresolved. The agreement would be open to review after three years.

Even if this can be achieved, it will be essentially a postponement of the key decision - not a solution of the dispute. But the Western powers are unlikely to quarrel with that.

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