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Europe

Kosovo in Limbo

Three years after NATO joined up with Albanian rebels to expell Yugoslavian forces from the breakaway south Serbian province, Kosovo is a weird Western protectorate with half-fulfilled dreams and tough times ahead.

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NATO troops on patrol

It is still a broken place – despite the NATO intervention, or partly because of it, depending on how you look at it.

Kosovo, the southernmost province of Serbia, is home to a mostly ethnic Albanian population and a thinning minority population of Serbs.

And it’s temporary home to some 46,000 NATO troops.

Their presence, remnant of the military alliance’s 78-day bombing campaign that began three years ago Sunday, has brought the region some stability, but no miracles.

Monday as German Defence Minister Rudoph Scharping travelled to the region, it remained in limbo. The success of Western military intervention – Germany’s first participatory support of war in Europe since the Second World War – remained a subject of debate.

Scharping therefore visits a region whose future is still far from determined, where the German role – along with US and European roles – likely will be defined by events Western capitals cannot control.

A mixed record

Kosovo ran its first elections in October last year, and moderate Albanians won, feeding hopes that some return to normalcy might be possible. But fundamentally the province is trapped in the same conflict that tore it apart during the 1990s.

Most of the ethnic Albanians support full independence from Serbia, but the Serbs say no, and NATO’s local force, KFOR, is not about to support further independence because of the risk that a new slip in that direction will ignite fresh conflict.

Still, the peacekeepers have mostly kept a lid on violence since the Serbian retreat in 1999. The questions are why, and at what cost?

The ten percent of Kosovo that was once Serbian has shrunk as the 90 percent that’s ethnically Albanian flexes its muscle with NATO protection. So the ethnic trends have reversed from the time when Yugoslavia controlled the region from Belgrade, and the one-time epidemic of political and ethnic violence is for the most part stopped, yet low-level conflict still gradually "cleanses" the province of an ethnic group – now the Serbs.

Meanwhile as the United Nations police for the province struggle to counter criminal activity, they have turned up the heat an concerned human rights advocates. Last week, the mission’s chief announced that police would be given the right, unilaterally by the UN office there, to tap telephones, covertly take photos and use electronic surveillance until now forbidden by local laws.

War successes contested

Though many Westerners remember NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavian forces as a morally justifiable and technically magnificent, in the rest after the war new facts have come out casting doubt on that view.

A United States Air Force study of bombing success, obtained by Newsweek, showed that Yugoslav forces were significantly less depleted by bombing than previously thought. The bombing hit just 14 tanks, not 120 as NATO previously reported; 18 armored personnel carriers, not 220; 20 artillery pieces, not 450. Over all, of the 744 confirmed NATO airstrikes, only 58 were authentically successful.

Some 500 civilians, meanwhile, were killed in the strikes, according to the US-based group Human Rights Watch. Unexploded bombs, left to be found on the ground, have killed 58 people including children, according to the London-based charity association Landmine Action, Reuters reported.

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