Clinton Says Future Peace Rides on Kosovo Success
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 14, 1999 Hundreds of thousands have died in Rwanda. Trouble still bubbles in the Middle East. Chechnya remains a Russian hotspot along with Abkhazia and Ossetia. In Africa, Eritrea is fighting with Ethiopia. Northern Ireland's religious tensions continue to fuse bomb blasts.
With so many trouble spots in the world, why are U.S. troops and NATO counterparts fighting for Kosovo?
President Clinton addressed this question during a speech at the National Defense University here May 13. He explained that Kosovo represents "a crucial test" in determining whether peace will triumph over brutality in the next century.
"NATO's mission must succeed," Clinton told service members, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other guests assembled at Fort McNair's Eisenhower Hall. Commending military members past and present for wartime service, the president said his visit earlier this month with U.S. troops and allies in Europe strengthened his conviction that "we will succeed."
Clinton acknowledged that ethnic and religious conflict plague many nations. What makes Kosovo different, he said, is the ethnic cleansing underway there. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces are conducting a military offensive that is purging ethnic Albanians from Yugoslavia's southern province.
"There is a huge difference between people who can't resolve their problems peacefully and fight about them, and people who resort to systematic cleansing and slaughter of people because of their religious or ethnic background," Clinton said.
"There is a difference," he repeated. "There is a difference."
He said NATO has recognized and acted because of that difference. "I believe that is what we have seen in Bosnia and Kosovo. I think the only thing we have seen that really rivals that -- rooted in ethnic or religious destruction -- in this decade, is what happened in Rwanda, he said. And I regret very much that the world community was not organized and able to act quickly there as well."
While the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo is not the same as the Holocaust's ethnic extermination, Clinton said, "the two are related -- both vicious, premeditated, systematic oppression fueled by religious and ethnic hatred. This campaign to drive the Kosovars from their land and to, indeed, erase their very identity is an affront to humanity and an attack not only on people, but on the dignity of all people."
Like Hitler, Milosevic has fomented ethnic hatred among his people, Clinton said. "This is something political leaders do," he said. "And if people make decisions to do these kinds of things, other people can make decisions to stop them. And if the resources are properly arrayed, it can be done. And that is exactly what we intend to do."
Milosevic has involved his people in an unwinnable conflict against the united international community, Clinton said. "Our quarrel is not with the Serbian people, who have also suffered greatly in the conflicts Milosevic has provoked in the past decade. But the cycle of violence must end, Clinton stressed. "The children of the Balkans -- all of them -- deserve a chance to grow up without fear."
NATO is determined to end the fighting and rebuild the region once peace is restored, he said. The alliance air campaign will continue until Milosevic stops the killing, withdraws his forces, allows the refugees to return home and live in safety, and permits an international security force with NATO at its core to ensure peace.
"Bringing the Kosovars home is a moral issue," Clinton said, "but it is [also] a very practical, strategic issue." In a world where terrorist groups and weapons of mass destruction threaten the future, this is also a significant security issue, he said. "Because of Kosovo's location, it is just as much a security issue for us as ending the war in Bosnia was."
America needs a strong and peaceful Europe more than ever as a partner for freedom and for economic progress, and as a partner against terrorism, the spread of weapons of mass destruction and instability, the president said. Milosevic stands in the way of an undivided, democratic and peaceful Europe, he said.
Until recently, 1.7 million ethnic Albanians -- about the population of Nebraska -- lived in Kosovo among a total population of 2 million, the others being Serbs, Clinton said. Today, about 900,000 refugees are in camps in neighboring nations and another 600,000 are trapped within Kosovo without food or shelter, or they are buried in mass graves, he added.
"We must not get refugee fatigue," Clinton warned. "We must not forget the real victims of this tragedy. We must give them aid and hope and make sure their stories are told."
The president then relayed some of the horrors Kosovar Albanians experienced as Serb forces forced them from their homes. "Nine out of 10 Kosovar Albanians now have been driven from their homes; thousands murdered; at least 100,000 missing; many young men led away in front of their families; over 500 cities, towns and villages torched."
One farmer reported that the Serbs killed about 100 men in his village, Clinton said. Shot in the shoulder, the farmer feigned death as he lay among the bodies dumped in a stream. According to the president, the farmer survived and is now in an Albanian refugee camp where he said, "My daughter tells me, 'Father, sleep. Why don't you sleep?' But I can't. All those dead bodies on top of mine."
Milosevic has not allowed international media in Kosovo to witness the "slaughter and destruction," Clinton noted. "There is no picture reflecting the story that one refugee told of 15 men being tied together and set on fire while they were still alive. No, there are no pictures of that. But we have enough of those stories to know that there is a systematic effort that has animated our actions, and we must not forget it."
Along with the basic inhumanity of the Serb purge, the refugee crisis threatens regional stability, Clinton stressed. Unchecked, it could become "fertile ground for radicalism and vengeance that would consume Southeastern Europe," he said. "And if Europe were overwhelmed with that, you know we would have to then come in and help them. Far better for us all to work together, to be firm, to be resolute, to be determined to resolve this now."
The United States, Canada and the European community can not "turn away from, and therefore reward, ethnic cleansing," Clinton said. "We would be creating a world of trouble for Europe and for the United States in the years ahead."