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Behind the Crisis in Kosovo

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON -- Kosovo is a land inhabited by ethnic Albanians and yet regarded by Serbs as sacred. Kosovo, a Serbian province, is now the scene of fighting between the Serbian government and independence-minded ethnic Albanian Kosovars. The province is a Balkan flash point -- because of relationships in the area, fighting in Kosovo could spill over to Albania, to the west, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to the east.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the United States would like to see a negotiated settlement between the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians. President Clinton's special envoy Richard Holbrooke said he saw much devastation when he toured the area recently. Holbrooke called for restraint by both the Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. If negotiations are unsuccessful, NATO may intervene. NATO military 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 was the site of the Battle of Kosovo Polje. A Christian army of Serbs, Bosnians, Bulgars, Albanians, Vlachs, Poles and Hungarians united under Serbian Prince Lazar to check further expansion by the Muslim Ottoman Turks. 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 as sacred 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 survive the ensuing Ottoman occupation. That's why Kosovo today is the site of many ancient Serbian Orthodox monasteries. In 1804, Serbia began a series of revolutions against the Ottoman Empire. In 1806, Russia allied itself with Serbia. Turkey formally withdrew from Serbia in 1833, but even then, the Turkish flag flew alongside the Serb banner. It wasn't until 1878 that Serbia regained full independence -- and the province of Kosovo. Today, 90 percent of Kosovo's population of 2 million can trace its roots to Muslim Albania. These ethnic Albanians speak Albanian and maintain ties with clans in their ancestral homeland -- many can point to Muslim forebears who settled in Kosovo 600 years ago. The other 10 percent 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 had its 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 the federal successor and stripped Kosovo of its special status. The Serbs dismissed the local governments, closed the Albanian-language schools and cracked down on dissent. Muslims formed a guerrilla independence movement and called it the Kosovar Liberation Army. The Serbian government regards the faction as an insurgent force. Kosovo is politically and legally part of Serbia and that complicates matters. U.S. officials have said the NATO charter gives the alliance the ability to intervene in Kosovo if needed. On the other hand, some NATO allies
say the alliance first needs a U.N. Security Council resolution. Serbian allies, however, liken outside intervention to everything from unwarranted interference to armed invasion. "In Bosnia, the ethnic groups all speak the same language and look much alike," said Jim Swihart, a former U.S. ambassador to Lithuania and now a member of the Institute for National and Strategic Studies at the National Defense University at Fort McNair here. "In Kosovo, there is a vast difference between the ethnic groups and they know it and don't like each other. Kosovo is a more difficult problem, from every way you look at it, than Bosnia."

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