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Albright Says Kosovo Matters to United States

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 8, 1999 – Why is the United States considering sending troops to Kosovo? Does it matter to us when a place like Kosovo falls victim to turbulence and bloodshed?

Yes, it matters, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Feb. 4 to the U.S. Institute for Peace here. Such conflicts undermine the American goal of promoting democracy and law, open markets and a commitment to peace.

"It may not be immediately apparent that the brutal policies of a local leader, and the tragedy of one small people, matter so much that they affect fundamental American interests -- but they do," Albright said. "America has a fundamental interest in peace and stability in Southern Europe and in seeing the rule of law upheld, human rights protected and justice done.

She explained how the crisis in the southern Serb province affects U.S. interests. "American soldiers in huge numbers have been drawn to Europe to fight wars that either began in the Balkans or that sparked bitter fighting there," she said. "After World War I, America withdrew from Europe and ignored the storm that was gathering. An entire generation of brave Europeans and Americans paid the price."

After World War II, Albright continued, the United States helped Western Europe build peace, prosperity and freedom. "As a result," she said, "our own nation prospered and stood secure in liberty."

The United States, Western Europe and Russia aim to restore peace in Kosovo and prevent the conflict from spreading to other Balkan nations, including possibly even Greece and Turkey, both NATO allies, she said.

Albright noted that renewed violence in Kosovo could seriously jeopardize Bosnia's progress toward peace. She said U.S. officials are determined to apply lessons learned in Bosnia to the situation in Kosovo. "We learned in Bosnia that we can pay early or we can pay much more later," she remarked.

The only reward for tolerating atrocities, Albright said, is more of the same. "The killings of 45 people in Racak last month provide more fuel to the fires of violence which have caused 45,000 people to flee their villages in the past six weeks," she said.

Kosovo is roughly the size of Connecticut. The Serbs consider it the cradle of their national heritage, but the populace is composed mainly of ethnic Albanians. Also, the Serbs are Christians and most Kosovars are Muslim.

Slobodan Milosevic took away Kosovo's political autonomy in 1989 when he was president of Serbia. He imposed policies of ethnic polarization and hate-mongering that "ushered in a decade of police repression and human rights abuses throughout Yugoslavia," Albright said. "Those policies led to the breakup of Yugoslavia and to the devastating conflict in Bosnia."

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians tried to regain their rights for 10 years, but when peaceful means proved futile, more and more turned to the Kosovo Liberation Army and a more violent approach. Milosevic cracked down about a year ago by sending in his special police and military forces. According to recent press reports, about 2,000 died in the fighting over the past 11 months.

Last fall, NATO threatened to take military action to end the violence when hundreds of thousands of displaced Kosovars faced the onset of winter without shelter. Milosevic agreed to withdraw some of his forces. Unfortunately, Albright said, neither side met its obligations under the agreement.

"Today, the region is again on the verge of massive violence and a human tragedy of immense proportions," she said.

NATO is again ready to take military action if a peace settlement is not reached by mid-February. If an agreement is reached, the alliance is ready to send in as many as 30,000 ground forces to implement the peace.

"We learned in Bosnia and we have seen in Kosovo that President Milosevic understands only the language of force," Albright said. "Nothing less than strong engagement from NATO will focus the attention of both sides; and nothing less than firm American leadership will ensure decisive action."

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