Milosevic in Kosovo and South Serbia
by Stephen Schwartz
MITROVICA, Kosovo -- Almost a year after the start of the Kosovo war, trouble is brewing here again. In the northern end of this town, Serb extremists have dug in for the past 10 months and refuse to let in Albanians. But that's not all, across the border in southern Serbia, a new version of the Kosovo Liberation Army -- known as the Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac Liberation Army, or UCPMB -- is fighting for an Albanian-majority region.
Ironically, troublemakers in both regions look across the border for patronage. In Mitrovica, the Serbs are getting support from none other than Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic. The Albanians in southern Yugoslavia, meanwhile, expect to get the North Atlantic Treaty Organization embroiled in their fight.
The international forces administering Mitrovica were caught by surprise a month ago when thousands of Serbs started attacking the last neighborhoods sheltering Albanian families in northern Mitrovica. The crisis was then allowed to boil on.
Yesterday, some 20, including French peacekeepers, were wounded as gunfire and grenade explosions shook Mitrovica again. Ethnic Albanians said Serbs had thrown hand grenades into homes in an attempt to drive out their residents, and NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark had to cancel a visit to the southern part of the city.
Even before yesterday's events, Gen. Clark, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and other NATO and U.S. representatives had already identified agents of the Milosevic regime as the main culprits in the Mitrovica standoff. France, whose troops have been "guarding" the town since the trouble began, hurried to discount the claim, however. The Albanians, Paris said, were as much at fault as the Serbs.
One clear sign that the situation in Mitrovica was being directly manipulated by Milosevic's stooges came when Oliver Ivanovic and Marko Jaksic, the slick operators who claim to represent the Serbs in northern Mitrovica, announced that under no circumstances would their faction participate in the Kosovo Temporary Administrative Council (KTAC) set up by international administrator Bernard Kouchner. The international community's chief representative for the province, they said, stood only for the abolition of Serb authority over Kosovo, which they deemed unacceptable.
In doing so, however, the Serb "leaders" in northern Mitrovica made it clear that they were rejecting any steps toward a peaceful and rational resolution of their grievances. They left no doubt, moreover, that they did not want a multiethnic Kosovo in which Serbs can live with equal rights; they want a segregated zone of their own from which Albanians will be excluded. And they also deliberately seek to continue the confrontation.
The motivation for this hardline stance is obvious: Messrs. Ivanovic and Jaksic take orders from Belgrade. The Serbian press has revealed that Mr. Ivanovic is a "member on leave" of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia, while Mr. Jaksic, who belongs to the "opposition" Democratic Party of Zoran Djindjic, is a paid employee of the Serbian government.
By rejecting the option of working with Mr. Kouchner, as well as with Albanian members of the KTAC, Messrs. Ivanovic and Jaksic also refused to follow the lead taken by the best and most legitimate leaders of the Kosovo Serbs, men like Bishop Artemije and his assistant, Father Sava Janjic, of the Orthodox diocese of Raska and Prizren, as well as their lay partner Momcilo Trajkovic. Bishop Artemije is well known for having declared that "if Serbs reject this government, it is doubtful they will get anything from the international community in Kosovo."
Mr. Ivanovic, particularly, seems intoxicated with the power he has gained in the north Mitrovica zone. Interviewed in the Belgrade newspaper Danas (Today), Mr. Jaksic noted that Mr. Ivanovic had refused to submit to the overall leadership of Bishop Artemije's group, on the grounds that "we are very strong and won't gain anything from cooperation" with the rest of the Kosovo Serbs.
Across the border one finds an almost perfect mirror image. Albanian extremists in the Albanian-majority region of Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac in southern Serbia increasingly call it "Eastern Kosovo." This is a political, historical and geographic distortion. The Albanian troublemakers saw an opening after Milosevic moved his heavies into the region.
Until then, the Albanian majority in that area was fearful about its future, but lived in peace, with relative economic stability. The question of the Presevo-Medvedja-Bujanovac region had mainly elicited reasonable proposals from Albanian politicians. Even longtime Kosovo Marxist Adem Demaci had cited the welfare of the region's Albanians as an argument for Kosovo to remain in a federation with Serbia and Montenegro, which he refers to as "Balkania."
However, in recent weeks Milosevic's regime began harassing Albanians in southern Serbia, mainly through a military buildup alarmingly close to the Kosovo border. This ploy could be interpreted in two ways, and neither of them is benevolent. Either Milosevic is seeking to blackmail the Kosovars into backing off in Mitrovica, by suggesting that if they did not he would apply a fresh round of bloody repression in Presevo, Medvedja, and Bujanovac, or he deliberately seeks to provoke a new conflict with the Albanians and the West.
Observers throughout the region have argued since the beginning of the year that Milosevic is bent on a new war. He has undertaken feeble but persistent attempts to intimidate the Montenegrin government of Milo Djukanovic, who has established de facto independence from Serbia while officially remaining within the ever-more rump-looking Yugoslav federation.
Milosevic's psychology is transparent. His regime is undermined from within by a growing atmosphere of lawlessness, symbolized by a string of political assassinations, most recently that of defense minister Pavle Bulatovic.
But expectations of NATO backing for a scrap with Milosevic are absurd, as NATO General Klaus Reinhardt and others have made clear. With occasional outbreaks of fighting and waves of refugees crossing the border from southern Serbia, the situation looks unpromising, however.
Milosevic has come full circle. The situation he now faces offers an uncanny reproduction of that in the collapsing Yugoslavia of 1990. Montenegro resembles Slovenia in that most of its citizens despise Milosevic and their police are ready, and probably quite able, to defend their sovereignty. Northern Mitrovica recalls Croatia, where Milosevic's minions established a Serb-only zone as a base to destabilize the whole region. Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac are inhabited by Albanians who, like the Bosnians of eight years ago, appear to be sleepwalking into a catastrophe, while Milosevic's thugs prepare a new bloodletting.
But having said that, the Albanians of the new "liberation army" should heed the words of Serb leader Momcilo Trajkovic. In the Balkan labyrinth, the extremists on each side benefit only their opposing, evil counterparts.