Kosovo: One Year Later
By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 8, 2000 NATO troops have made huge strides toward ending ethnic strife since the Kosovo Force entered Yugoslavia's southern province one year ago June 11, but the international community still has a long way to go.
Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley delivered that bottom-line assessment to reporters in a June 6 briefing.
About 6,100 Americans are among the 42,000 troops from 28 nations participating in peacekeeping operations, which began after NATO airstrikes against the Serb military succeeded in ending escalating violence against the province's ethnic Albanian majority.
Quigley offered some statistics to prove the mission's success to this point:
o 1.3 million refugees have returned to their homes -- 840,000 from neighboring Albania and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and 555,000 displaced inside Kosovo.
o The murder rate is down from 50 per week to seven.
o 3,800 small arms have been confiscated and destroyed, and 8,500 weapons have been handed in voluntarily by the Kosovo Liberation Army.
o 16,000 homes and 1,165 schools have been cleared of unexploded ordnance.
o 18,000 stoves, 4,000 truckloads of firewood and more than a million roofing tiles have been distributed to the people of the region.
Hot spots of continuing violence remain in several areas, including Mitrovica and the Presevo Valley, Quigley said, and land mines, unexploded ordnance and booby traps keep many refugees from returning to their homes and villages. Another issue the peacekeepers are struggling to address is violence against Serbs by ethnic Albanians hungry for revenge.
Quigley said the "proper mechanism" for dealing with these issues is through the United Nations. "Some progress is being made in that regard. More needs to be done," he said.
Some members of Congress have called recently for a mandatory withdrawal date of U.S. troops from Kosovo, a suggestion defense officials have urged against. Pulling U.S. forces from Kosovo would be counterproductive to peace and would seriously jeopardize U.S. relations with NATO allies, Defense Secretary William Cohen said in a letter to the Senate in May.
"I frequently have to testify on Capitol Hill, and they want to know, 'How long? How long is it going to take before these wounds heal?' You know from your experiences, it's not going to be easy," Cohen said to American soldiers in Kosovo May 1. "The passions that still reside here are still pretty high, and they're likely to remain high for some time to come."
Quigley refused to speculate on when the mission might end. "That's a decision this nation will make, not this building (the Pentagon)," he said.