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Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Kosovo

Labour & Trade Union Review, September/October 1999


On 11th August the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, published a report on the situation in Kosovo in which they estimated that at least 170,000 Serbs, out of a population of between 180,000 and 200,000, had fled in the eight weeks or so since Jugoslav forces withdrew (see Guardian, 12th August).

In the capital Pristina, with a population of about a quarter of a million, the Serb population had declined to less than 2,000, the UNHCR estimated, from a pre-war total of around 40,000. A UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, said that the expulsion of Serbs appeared systematic. He went on: "

A disturbing pattern has arisen in the method of intimidation used against Serbs still in the city. First a warning letter is received ordering them to leave, then the threat is delivered in person, followed a few days later by physical assault, in some cases even murder [Serbs'] freedom of movement is virtually non-existent."

Dennis McNamara of UNHCR said that Serbia was now home to nearly 700,000 refugees who had fled regional conflicts this decade.

This is ethnic cleansing on a grand scale reported by a reputable organisation, yet it has produced no outcry from the supporters of the "humanitarian war" against Serbia. The Guardian, a leading supporter of the "humanitarian war", covered the UNHCR report at the bottom of page 13. Ethnic cleansing of Serbs is not front-page news.

Our Prime Minister who wrote passionately of the "new internationalism where the brutal repression of whole ethnic groups will no longer tolerated" (Newsweek, 19th April) has barely opened his mouth about the fate of the Serbs of Kosovo, let alone visit them in their exile for a photo opportunity. His wife has yet to shed a public tear for them.

On 7th September Nato Secretary General, Javier Solana, was interviewed on Today on BBC Radio 4 about the situation in Kosovo on the occasion of his return from a visit. He gave the impression that the situation in Kosovo was settling down quite nicely. He did not mention the ethnic cleansing of Serbs (and the interviewer, James Naughtie, wasn't so impolite as to bring the matter up). Serbs did get a mention, however, when Solana expressed his approval of Russian troops killing two of them. Their action proved that the Russians were impartial, he said. It will also encourage more Serbs to leave Kosovo, he might have added.

The situation in Kosovo may indeed be settling down quite nicely but the main reason for that is that there are damn few Serbs left.

In late July 14 Serb farmers were killed in one incident. Briefly, the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo reached our front pages. But this incident was, in fact, part of an ongoing process which went virtually unreported. In the first 6 weeks of Nato's care for Kosovo, Nato admits that there were 198 murders, that is, about 5 a day on average (see Jonathan Steele's report in the Guardian on 27th July). Almost all the victims were Serb or Roma. According to Jonathan Steele, Nato was attempting to say at the time that the situation was improving, because the killing rate per 1000 was going down as more and more Albanian refugees returned. A decrease in the killing rate might also have something to do with the fact that so many Serbs had left Kosovo.

It is no surprise that the Nato Secretary General fails to draw attention to the ethnic cleansing of the Serbs under his care in Kosovo. The fewer non-Albanians there are in Kosovo, the easier is Nato's job in Kosovo. It is in Nato's interest to get rid of them. And the expulsion of Serbs to Serbia proper has the beneficial side effect of increasing pressure on Milosevic and helping opposition to him ­ or so it is believed in Western capitals. Of course, when asked, Nato leaders will express their determination to create a multi-ethnic Kosovo but it can be guaranteed that they won't try too hard.

On 3rd September a story (written by Chris Bird) entitled "KLA to give birth to Kosovo's new army" appeared in the Guardian. This sensational story did not appear on the front page either. We quote:

"Kosovo Liberation Army fighters are to be allowed to form a lightly armed "national guard", despite the public insistence by the Nato-led peacekeepers and United Nations officials who are overseeing the province that the KLA will demilitarise by the agreed deadline of September 19.

"Western officials involved in negotiations the terms of the force with KLA leaders have told the Guardian that it will be 2,500 to 3,000 strong, that members will wear uniforms and will be allowed to carry sidearms, and that some will be trained to fly helicopters. The officials say that these helicopters will be for civilian purposes.

"The guard has yet to be given a name, but KLA leaders say they aim to turn it into an ethnic army of Kosovo. Documents seen by the Guardian show that the KLA and the western negotiators are still at odds over which weapons will be permitted.

"The creation of a "national guard" is controversial. The ethnic-Albanian KLA, which wants Kosovo to break away from Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, has waged a campaign of terror that has driven the Serbs and other minorities out of their homes in Kosovo since Nato peacekeepers arrived in June and the Yugoslav army was forced to withdraw.

"When the minorities learn that the KLA is here to stay as an armed force, more of them are likely to run away leaving the province even more of a ghetto than it already is."

Later in the report Bernard Kouchner, the UN official in overall charge of Kosovo, is quoted as follows:

"They [the KLA] have a need to reintegrate into a new structure with a unity, an esprit de corps, with discipline, with equipment and with a mission that is legitimate and honourable."

Such as expelling the remaining Serbs from Kosovo?

The UN Security Council resolution under which Kouchner operates, Resolution 1244 (1999), adopted by the Security Council on 10 June 1999, gives him the task of "assuring the safe and unimpeded return of all refugees and displaced persons to their homes in Kosovo" (section 11(k)). The creation of an Albanian "national guard" will ensure that doesn't apply to Serbs.