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U.S. Peacekeeping Operations Continue in Balkans

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2004 – U.S. forces, in addition to helping to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to have a peacekeeping role in the Balkans.

Former strongman Slobodan Milosevic had ruled his native Serbia and later Yugoslavia with an iron hand, but fell from power after U.S.-NATO airpower dashed his visions of empire.

Charged with war crimes, Milosevic today sits in a jail cell in The Hague, Netherlands, awaiting his fate.

The demise of the Soviet Union in 1991 had reawakened centuries old ethnic feuds between myriad Balkan factions. During Soviet hegemony of Eastern Europe, such strife didn't affect Yugoslav President Marshal Tito, who'd simply kill anyone who disturbed the peace.

However, after both Tito and his Soviet masters had passed on, ethnic conflict reappeared across the Balkans.

In early 1998, war broke out between Serbs and ethnic Albanians living in the Serbian province of Kosovo. Milosevic, who became Yugoslavia's president in 1989, made it a campaign point to side with the Serbs in Kosovo.

Today, Milosevic is on trial for allegedly ordering mass killings of Albanians in Kosovo, as well as for allegedly directing other atrocities in Bosnia during an earlier war there.

In 1999, Milosevic dismissed American-NATO overtures for peace and refused to withdraw Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.

The U.S. and NATO responded March 24, 1999, by launching a bombing campaign. On June 10 that year, Yugoslavia began a pullout of its troops from Kosovo. NATO then stopped the bombing campaign, and the U.S. Security Council ratified the peace agreement.

In Helsinki, Finland, Russian and American leaders agreed on June 18, 1999, to provide troops in Kosovo and patrol the partitioned province, along with German and French forces.

Kosovo has been under U.N. and NATO protection ever since. The U.S. today has about 2,500 troops in Kosovo and around 900 in Bosnia.

After failing to remake Kosovo into a Serbian enclave, Milosovic's political influence in Yugoslavia waned and he later lost the 2000 Yugoslav presidential election by a landslide.

Now, the frail, 63-year-old former Yugoslav ruler faces genocide charges.

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