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Yugoslav President May Be Getting What He Wants

Slobodan Milosevic has been able to use the NATO airstrike campaign to his advantage, igniting Serbian nationalism.

W A S H I N G T O N — NATO claims its ferocious storm of missiles and bombs will eventually halt Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s ability to wage war — and maybe even force him back to the bargaining table.

But so far, more than a week of bombing has done little to deter the defiant Milosevic from speeding down a road of terror and carnage. If anything, Milosevic now wields greater control over his nation and the future of Kosovo than ever before during his 12-year reign.

Under his direction, Serbian troops are driving ethnic Albanians from the southern province of Kosovo and into neighboring countries. Ethnic Albanian moderate leaders have been shot or have disappeared. There are even unconfirmed reports that Milosevic has established a concentration camp of 20,000, where prisoners may be used as “human shields” to protect bombing targets.

Milosevic Takes Control of Kosovo
As reports of atrocities pour in, NATO leaders remain strong in their resolve to curb Milosevic’s ability to wage war. But even the strongest supporters of the bombing campaign have been surprised by the success of Milosevic’s response to the situation.

Two years ago, he was a ruler who was losing popularity. Then, he launched a new campaign of ethnic war in Kosovo. And the NATO attacks have only tightened his grip on Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia.

“Milosevic has taken control,” says Lani Kass, a professor of military strategy at the National War College in Washington. “He’s ignited Serb nationalism.”

Milosevic has found his greatest strength in NATO’s weakness, by lashing out where allied forces have little control — on the ground in Kosovo.

This strategy serves two of Milosevic’s goals, Kass says: Driving ethnic Albanians out of Yugoslavia and destabilizing the region.

“He changed the terms of engagement” by burdening poor nations like Albania and Macedonia with hundreds of thousands of penniless refugees. “So Milosevic has decided to help those countries collapse,” concludes Kass.

Refugees May Never Return
The refugees now face a strong possibility of never returning to Kosovo, even if a peace agreement is reached, because many will find it impossible to prove their Yugoslav citizenship.

Ethnic Albanians being run out of Kosovo have been stripped of all identification papers by Yugoslav forces that have looted their other possessions and torched their homes. License plates have been stolen from vehicles transporting the refugees. It is the same strategy the Serbs used during the Bosnian war, which left hundreds of thousands of people without a country to this day.

Milosevic’s goal of “ethnic cleansing” seems well on its way to completion, but the policy may exact a heavy price if NATO forces ultimately prevail. Where once the bombing was said to be a means to achieve autonomy for Kosovo as a province within the Yugoslav federation, allies are now signaling that Milosevic may end up losing Kosovo completely.

“Keeping Kosovo as part of Serbia is what Milosevic needs the most. And he is putting that by his actions at risk both from further radicalization of the population there and the [loss of] international support,” White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said today.

If and when a peace deal is struck, that may be the biggest threat to Milosevic — not only from those who seek to try the man for war crimes — but from within his own country, warns Obad Kesic, an adviser to former Yugoslav prime minister Milan Panic. Both now live in the United States.

“The war has empowered the Yugoslavian people and their military,” Kesic says. “That’s dangerous for him. They may not want to live under his rule when they discover their country has been thrown into economic collapse.”


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