NATO, Milosevic Confront the Perils of Peace

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Peace is made easier when it takes effect at a blistering pace, leaving scarcely a moment for naysayers to catch their breath. And so, just hours after Slobodan Milosevic’s government accepted the principle of NATO peacekeeping forces in Kosovo Thursday, alliance commanders were on the phone with their Yugoslav army counterparts making arrangements for the departure of one army and the arrival of another. The alliance kept its planes away from Yugoslavia’s major cities overnight, bombing only some relatively minor targets -– and making clear that air raids would cease altogether once a substantial Serb withdrawal was under way. Peace, it would seem, may finally be at hand.

In the short term, the peace deal plays well in both Washington and Belgrade, but it threatens to present political problems for presidents Milosevic and Clinton a little further down the line. "Initially Serbs will simply be relieved that the bombing is over," says TIME Central Europe reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "But very quickly they will begin to ask why it was necessary to go through all this trauma before accepting NATO’s demand to withdraw Serb forces from Kosovo and let alliance troops come in –- and Milosevic may not have a good answer to that question." Four thousand miles away, the stakes are not so high for the White House, but President Clinton still faces many a political minefield. "If Serb troops leave and NATO forces enter Kosovo, Clinton will certainly be able to claim vindication," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "But a clear-cut political victory will depend on the return of the refugees and the future of Milosevic, and there the experience of Bosnia –- where four years after a peace deal, hundreds of thousands of refugees haven’t returned home and indicted war criminals operate openly despite the presence of NATO troops –- is not encouraging. And like Saddam in Baghdad, a free Milosevic in Belgrade would, by his very presence, be mocking the West daily."

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