NATO Considers Monitoring Mission
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
LUXEMBOURG, Jun. 4, 1998 Concerned over escalating violence in Kosovo, NATO ministers have asked military authorities to explore options, including sending up to 23,000 troops to monitor Kosovo's borders with Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
"Let me be very clear that NATO has made no decision today to station troops in Albania or the FYROM or anywhere else," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright stressed here May 28. "We have agreed to begin contingency planning for possible preventive deployments to those countries."
Press reports that NATO is considering sending troops to Albania and FYROM are within the ball park, a senior NATO official said. "Sizable numbers" of troops, he said, would be needed to monitor the Albanian and FYROM frontiers with Kosovo.
Albright and ministers from NATO's other 15 member nations, Russia, the three NATO invitees -- Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, and 25 Partnership for Peace nations gathered here May 28 and 29 for two days of talks. Kosovo was high on their agenda. NATO leaders lately have expressed concern over the escalating violence in the southern Serbian province, where the 90 percent ethnic Albanian populace seeks independence from Serb President Slobodan Milosevic's rule.
The ministers released a May 28 statement deploring the use of violence by both the Kosovar and Serbian factions. "We urge both sides to ensure that the dialogue that has now begun leads rapidly to the adoption of concrete measures to lower tensions, stop the spread of violence and open the way to a peaceful resolution of the crisis," the ministers stated.
NATO is determined not to let the violence expand, spill over into neighboring states or undermine progress toward peace in Bosnia, Albright said. The ministers made it clear "violence is unacceptable; ethnic cleansing is unacceptable," she said.
Negotiations between Milosevic and Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova represent a step forward, Albright said, but they must result in "a change in the situation on the ground," Albright said.
NATO has to "come to grips with this problem now and not allow it to spin out of control," a senior U.S. official said. "Our goal is to provide all the political, economic and military pressure we can so Milosevic de-escalates and takes seriously the process of finding a political solution," he said.
In the meantime, NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the alliance is taking steps to maintain stability in the region, and if the violence continues, the North Atlantic Council will consider further deterrents.
NATO seeks a peaceful, political solution, Solana stressed, but all options remain open. "Nothing has been excluded," he said, noting a priority at the moment is ensuring NATO can react quickly if necessary.
Along with looking at possible preventive deployments, NATO officials are also seeking advice on how the alliance can support U.N. border monitoring activities, Solana said. "We want to help Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia cope effectively with the security challenges that they face."
Military authorities are studying how NATO could support the Organization for Security Cooperation in Europe monitoring mission now deployed along Albania's border with the Former Republic of Yugoslavia as well as the U.N. monitoring force in Albania.
The U.N. Preventive Deployment Force of about 750 U.S. and Nordic troops presently patrol the FYROM border with Serbia. The U.N.-mandated mission is set to end this summer. NATO authorities are calling for a continuation of the international military presence which they say has contributed significantly to maintaining stability in the region.
In the past months, Solana said, NATO has assisted both neighboring nations through the Partnership for Peace and is stepping up efforts to promote security and stability and to signal NATO's interest. Officials plan to upgrade partnership exercises being held in FYROM in September and in Albania in August.
NATO is also opening an office in Tirana, Albania, to support the partnership program and to improve Albania's ability to secure its borders. NATO officials are trying to set up a partnership training center in FYROM. The alliance's Standing Force Mediterranean is also due for a port visit in Durres, Albania, in early July.