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Actions, Not Words, Cohen Warns

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7, 1998 – Actions speak louder than words. That's Defense Secretary William S. Cohen's message to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Cohen said he remains wary despite the Milosevic's declaration that he defeated the Kosovo Liberation Army and is pulling some police forces from the embattled Serb province.

"We have seen no evidence that there has been a strategic drawback at this point," he said. "This may be another rhetorical declaration without any intent to match those words with concrete steps."

On Kosovo, the secretary said, it will take more than rhetoric to stop NATO's plans for possible military action. "We will insist that whatever words he issues will be followed up with concrete steps," Cohen stressed.

At the same time Milosevic declared victory, the Kosovo Liberation Army issued a statement that the fight had just begun. Both parties must be willing to come to the bargaining table to negotiate an end to this conflict, Cohen said.

U.S. officials said if Milosevic does not comply with a Sept. 23 U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire, U.S. military forces soon may be part of a NATO effort to force an end to the violence. Cohen and other NATO allies met in Portugal approved an activation warning order Sept. 24 that authorizes military officials to designate units for possible air operations.

Along with demanding an immediate cease-fire, U.N. and NATO officials say Milosevic must withdraw army and police forces involved in an offensive against ethnic-Albanian civilians. The Serb leader must allow nongovernment organizations to provide humanitarian relief to tens of thousands of displaced people, and both sides must negotiate a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

There is no reason for the Serbs to continue their offensive against independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, said Christopher R. Hill, U.S. ambassador to the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia and special envoy to Kosovo. "We are at a stage where there is absolutely no justification from anyone's point of view -- even the Serb internal logic -- of continuing security operations in Kosovo."

Continuing attacks on ethnic Albanians are intolerable and a direct effort to attack Kosovo's civilian population, Hill said. Serb authorities, he said, "must understand that if they continue the offensive there will be a reaction and I think the reaction could be devastating for Serbia's future."

At present, Serb authorities appear to have regained control of most of Kosovo, said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on background. This summer, the Kosovo Liberation Army claimed to control about 50 percent of the province and set up a provisional capital in the town of Malisevo. Milosevic responded by sending more troops and police to the region. Serb forces attacked ethnic-Albanian villages, burning houses and forcing people from their homes.

Today, the diplomat said, the Kosovo Liberation Army is "a tiny fraction of what it was in the summer and yet the Serbs have continued a very strong offensive where there are far more civilian victims than there are among the remaining elements of the KLA."

So far, negotiations have failed to produce a peaceful settlement. The diplomat said both sides are strongly polarized. Though ethnic Albanians comprise 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, the Serbs see the province as the historic heart of their nation. Ethnic Albanians want to be free of Serb control, and some want an independent state, the diplomat said.

Kosovo was a politically autonomous province of the Yugoslavian republic of Serbia. When the Yugoslavian federation dissolved in 1989, Serbia declared itself the federal successor and withdrew Kosovo's autonomy. "Serbia has maintained an absolutely repressive, authoritarian regime, and their reaction to Albanian desires has been very strong oppression," the diplomat said.

The crisis is now entering a crucial phase, the diplomat continued. "If we don't get the violence stopped, we're going to have a tough time getting through the negotiations and we're going to have a real humanitarian nightmare."

U.S. officials predict a humanitarian disaster if the more than 250,000 displaced Kosovars are not allowed home. Most are living in Kosovo's mountains and many are in danger of freezing or starving to death as winter arrives.

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