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Balkan Ghosts Rise Again

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

VIENNA, Austria, June 24, 1998 – Three years ago, Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark helped negotiate a settlement to the Balkan nightmare called Bosnia. Today, the former Rhodes scholar is experiencing deja vu.

The nightmare is recurring. This time it's called Kosovo. For Clark, who now serves as NATO's top military commander in Europe, watching developments in Kosovo is a haunting reminder of Bosnia's civil war.

Clark fears the hotbed of ethnic repression and growing violence may be the "ultimate firestorm" in the Balkans. The American armor officer said that three years ago the Kosovar tinderbox was already part of every discussion in Dayton, Ohio, where negotiators hammered out details of the current Balkans peace accord.

Speaking at the 15th NATO Workshop here June 20, Clark said NATO's success in restoring peace in the Balkans depends first upon finishing the job in Bosnia, and second, upon finding a way to deal with the situation in Kosovo.

In Bosnia, military tasks are largely done, but they must be sustained, Clark said. The real challenge now is civil implementation. He told the 200 or so senior political and military leaders gathered here for the four-day conference that NATO-led forces provide a secure environment so this work can be done, but the military cannot do it alone. For the most part, he said, it's now up to the international community to re-establish stability in Bosnia.

In Kosovo, Clark said, the situation is fast deteriorating. Most of Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic-Albanian majority is held in check by a Serb minority supported by a strong military presence and the Interior Ministry Police Force.

Albanians in neighboring countries surround the formerly autonomous region, Clark explained. "Weapons abound and can flow across rugged, mountainous borders," he said. Economies in the region still suffer the effects of the economic embargo imposed five years.

"The familiar dynamic of ethnic strife and repression is again in play," Clark said. "Again, villages are being destroyed by artillery. Populations are in motion, leaving threatened areas and fleeing to safe havens -- mainly in Albania."

Kosovo's repressed majority is becoming more radical and is turning toward violence, Clark said. "We have seen this before. Are we now in the opening stages of another Balkan war?"

Although NATO allies prefer a political solution, Clark said, if diplomacy fails, NATO will not stand idly by. "Our recent air exercises showed the political and military agility of the alliance and we hope that the message has been received," he said.

Any military action NATO takes in this case, however, must serve a larger political purpose, Clark said. It "must be placed within a diplomatic framework with clear, attainable objectives. And, we must have thought through the military consequences -- costs, risks, likely outcome. Then if it becomes necessary to move ahead, to do so resolved to see it through to the aim we seek."

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