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Behind the Crisis in Kosovo

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 7, 1998 – Kosovo is a land inhabited by ethnic Albanians andyet regarded by Serbs as sacred.

Kosovo, a Serbian province, is now the scene of fighting betweenthe Serbian government and independence-minded ethnic Albanian Kosovars.The province is a Balkan flash point -- because of relationships in thearea, fighting in Kosovo could spill over to Albania, to the west, andthe Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the east.

Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States would like tosee a negotiated settlement between the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians.President Clinton's special envoy Richard Holbrooke said he saw muchdevastation when he toured the area recently. Holbrooke called forrestraint by both the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians.

If negotiations are unsuccessful, NATO may intervene. NATOmilitary planners have narrowed possible actions to "two, three or four"scenarios, said Bacon during a news conference.

The troubles in the area go back to 1389, when the province wasthe site of the Battle of Kosovo Polje. A Christian army of Serbs,Bosnians, Bulgars, Albanians, Vlachs, Poles and Hungarians united underSerbian Prince Lazar to check further expansion by the Muslim OttomanTurks. They fought the army of Sultan Murad I -- and lost.

The battle marked an end of the independent Kingdom of Serbia.The Turks took control -- and the Serbs have regarded the seized area assacred soil ever since then. This illustrates an old Serbian proverb:"Wherever a drop of Serbian blood has been shed, there lies Serbia."

The church was the only Serbian national institution to survivethe ensuing Ottoman occupation. That's why Kosovo today is the site ofmany ancient Serbian Orthodox monasteries.

In 1804, Serbia began a series of revolutions against the OttomanEmpire. In 1806, Russia allied itself with Serbia. Turkey formallywithdrew from Serbia in 1833, but even then, the Turkish flag flewalongside the Serb banner. It wasn't until 1878 that Serbia regainedfull independence -- and the province of Kosovo.

Today, 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million can traceits roots to Muslim Albania. These ethnic Albanians speak Albanian andmaintain ties with clans in their ancestral homeland -- many can pointto Muslim forebears who settled in Kosovo 600 years ago. The other 10percent of Kosovars are Serbian and speak Serbo-Croatian.

Serbia had been an autonomous republic of the former Yugoslavia,and Kosovo had been an autonomous Serbian province since 1974. It hadits own representatives at the federal level of the Yugoslavian government;it maintained its own schools, police and hospitals; and it managed its infrastructure without consulting Serbia.

When Yugoslavia broke apart in 1989, Serbia declared itself thefederal successor and stripped Kosovo of its special status. The Serbsdismissed the local governments, closed the Albanian-language schools andcracked down on dissent. Muslims formed a guerrilla independence movementand called it the Kosovar Liberation Army. The Serbian government regardsthe faction as an insurgent force.

Kosovo is politically and legally part of Serbia and thatcomplicates matters. U.S. officials have said the NATO charter gives thealliance the ability to intervene in Kosovo if needed. On the other hand,some NATO allies say the alliance first needs a U.N. Security Councilresolution. Serbian allies, however, liken outside intervention toeverything from unwarranted interference to armed invasion.

"In Bosnia, the ethnic groups all speak the same language andlook much alike," said Jim Swihart, a former U.S. ambassador to Lithuaniaand now a member of the Institute for National and Strategic Studies atthe National Defense University at Fort McNair here. "In Kosovo, there isa vast difference between the ethnic groups and they know it and don'tlike each other. Kosovo is a more difficult problem, from every way youlook at it, than Bosnia."

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