By SCOTT TAYLOR On Target
AS DEFENCE Minister Peter MacKay attempts to browbeat, badger or coerce a NATO partner into reinforcing the mission in southern Afghanistan, most European countries are keeping their eyes on a possible security crisis much closer to home.
It is widely expected that Kosovo will unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia within the next six weeks, and if history repeats itself, this will trigger yet another round of Balkan bloodletting. In anticipation of an escalation in ethnic violence in the disputed province, reinforcements have been sent into Kosovo to bolster the international security force that has been in place there for the past eight years.
In the spring of 1999, Canada committed 10 per cent of the NATO bombers that pounded Serbia for 78 days. It was NATO’s intention to counter a large-scale Serbian military offensive against Albanian separatist guerrillas in order to prevent further suffering among the civilian population. Despite the aerial bombardment’s widespread destruction of utilities and infrastructure across the country, the NATO air campaign failed to either dislodge or diminish the Serbian military forces in Kosovo. Although an allied ground offensive was threatened and a massive troop buildup had taken place in neighbouring Macedonia, NATO was forced to enter a negotiated settlement with the Serbs.
Under the terms of UN Resolution 1244, Kosovo was to remain the sovereign territory of Serbia. As an interim security measure, NATO troops were to enter Kosovo to supervise the withdrawal of Serbian security forces, oversee the disarmament of the Kosovo Liberation Army and protect the Serbian minority from revenge attacks at the hands of the returning 800,000 ethnic Albanians who had fled the fighting.
Once the Albanian fighters had been disarmed and a secure environment was restored, Serbian border police were to return to Kosovo along with some Serb security forces to protect Orthodox Christian religious sites from Albanian vandals.
The problem was that NATO never intended to implement UN Resolution 1244. While the Serbs kept their promise to withdraw peacefully, it soon became apparent that the allied commanders had only signed the agreement to avoid a costly ground war.
The Kosovo Liberation Army was never disbanded — it was renamed the Kosovo Protection Corps and within a matter of weeks, had organized bloody separatist insurgencies among the ethnic Albanian minorities in both southern Serbia and northern Macedonia.
Despite the presence of almost 50,000 NATO troops — including 800 Canadians — in the aftermath of the ceasefire, Albanian extremists forced nearly 200,000 Serbs to flee Kosovo. The 40,000 brave Serbs who chose to stay in their homes have spent the past nine years living in protected enclaves, subjected to perpetual fear and the occasional full-scale attack by Albanian nationalists.
Admittedly, the damage caused during the 18-month civil war was extensive. However, the European Union has poured in billions of Euros towards reconstruction since 1999. Despite the huge infusion of foreign aid, Kosovo still has an unemployment rate of close to 50 per cent; its illegal black market of drugs and prostitution outweighs legal commerce; regular garbage collection remains a pipe dream; and voluntary civilian payment for public utilities remains unachievable.
For Albanian Kosovars, such facts are not seen as impediments to their independence; rather, they are considered excuses used by the international community to deny them full autonomy.
For those who had carried on the pretence of a peacefully negotiated reconciliation of Serbia and Kosovo under a form of sovereignty association, the sands of time ran out last December. After negotiations broke down between the two parties, and the attempt to steer Kosovo’s independence through the UN bogged down with the threat of a Russian veto at the Security Council, the only recourse left to the Albanians is a unilateral declaration.
This is expected to occur on a Sunday sometime in February or March. Immediate and official recognition of Kosovo’s independence from countries such as the U.S., Britain, and Germany is expected to make this a fait accompli before the UN Security Council could be reconvened on the following Monday morning. To play out this charade to the full, the UN mission in Kosovo has just been renamed a European Union mission. As they are no longer technically working for the UN, the personnel overseeing the illegal creation of an independent state — in violation of the UN Charter — can now do so with a supposedly clear conscience.
Canada has played a shameful role in this fiasco to date — participating in an unsanctioned illegal bombing campaign in 1999, failing to hold our NATO partners accountable to the terms of UN Resolution 1244 and withdrawing our peacekeepers long before a stable environment could be achieved.
Rather than bowing to American pressure to recognize Kosovo’s impending independence, Canada should opt out and instead uphold the UN Charter and abide by international rules of law. After all, such a unilateral declaration of independence based on the ethnic majority of a province could set a precedent that we might soon regret.
Besides, the launching of an independent SS Kosovo is one boat so clearly destined for disaster we would be wise to steer well clear.
Scott Taylor reported from inside Serbia and Kosovo during the 1999 bombing campaign and has made more than 20 subsequent visits to the region. Scott Taylor is editor-in-chief of Espirit de Corps magazine.