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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT

Analysis: Milosevic's cat and mouse game

Serbian police remain a heavy presence in Kosovo

By Balkans analyst Gabriel Partos

Only five days ago it seemed that another imminent flare-up in the fighting in Kosovo had just been averted.

Kosovo Section
On Wednesday the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the Kosovo Liberation Army, the KLA, freed eight Yugoslav soldiers whom they had been holding in a bid to ensure the release of nine KLA fighters.

Jacky Rowland reports from Belgrade: What future for the monitoring mission?
But two days later Serbian security forces launched an attack in another part of Kosovo against the village of Racak.

Over 40 uanarmed ethnic Albanians were killed in what the OSCE's observers described as execution-style murders.

Worsening violence

[ image: Observers described the Racak massacre as execution-style killings]
Observers described the Racak massacre as execution-style killings
In several respects the Racak killings are the worst single atrocity committed in Kosovo since the outbreak of large-scale fighting nearly a year ago.

The ethnic Albanians' rural uprising which began in March last year followed two attacks by Serbian security forces. Although the number of victims in one of those assaults exceeded the toll in Racak, they had apparently taken place during the attack, not afterwards.

Since last spring Western leaders have reiterated on several occasions that Kosovo would not be allowed to become a second Bosnia-Hercegovina.

On the first of those occasions, in June, a number of economic sanctions were announced against Belgrade. On the second, in October, Nato came close to launching air strikes against Serbian targets.

The threat of Nato action persuaded President Milosevic to halt attacks on ethnic Albanians and to pull back most security forces to barracks. He also agreed to the deployment of unarmed OSCE observers to verify compliance with the deal.

No deterrent

[ image: The suffering continues in Kosovo]
The suffering continues in Kosovo
Yet the informal ceasefire in place since October has been gradually eroded. And the OSCE's presence on the ground has now failed to deter the large-scale killing of ethnic Albanian civilians.

If anything, the OSCE's involvement in Kosovo now acts as something of a deterrent to Nato action.

After all, the verifiers have become potential hostages who are at least as vulnerable as the UN peacekeepers were in Bosnia.

Perhaps in the light of this, Nato ambassadors decided on Sunday night against military action - at least for the time being.

Pressure on Milosevic

Instead Generals Clark and Naumann - Nato's two most senior military commanders - were instructed to go to Belgrade to explain to President Milosevic that he must comply with the accords he signed in October.

But this will be no easy task.

President Milosevic is adept at exploiting the vulnerability of OSCE verifiers, divisions within Nato and Russia's opposition to any air strikes.

Even if he were to scale down operations now or agree to an investigation of the Racak killings by the Hague War Crimes Tribunal, he can be expected to renege on his promises as soon as there's an easing of the diplomatic pressure on him.

Unless firm action is taken by Nato, Mr Milosevic's cat-and-mouse diplomacy with the international community is set to continue.

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