Clinton to Kosovars: Did We Fight for This?

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This may not be quite the Kosovo victory tour President Clinton had imagined when he went to war. The President visited the war-torn Yugoslavian province Tuesday, and had to devote his major address to ethnic Albanians to denouncing "blind racial hatred." He was speaking not of Slobodan Milosevic's campaign of terror that had turned hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians into refugees, but of the systematic attacks on Serbs and other minorities that continue despite six months of NATO control. Rather than the multi-ethnic Kosovo for which the West went to war, today's reality is a systematic low-intensity ethnic cleansing of non-Albanians, and what appears to be an inexorable slide toward partitioning off the remaining Serb enclaves in the north of the province.

President Clinton's itinerary will include meetings with Kosovo Liberation Army leader Hashem Thaci, as well as moderate ethnic Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and leaders of the Serb community. That appears to be a broadening of the U.S. political approach to the territory compared with the period immediately after the war, when Washington treated Thaci and the KLA as a government in waiting and unofficial U.S. policy leaned toward granting independence to the territory despite the objections of European NATO members. But the continued ethnic cleansing against the Serbs — which often involves land mines, mortars and other weaponry that belies its characterization as simple revenge attacks by ethnic Albanian civilians — may be designed to reinforce independence claims by turning Kosovo into an exclusively Albanian territory. By meeting Rugova, who fell out of favor with Washington and the KLA when he held talks with Milosevic during the fighting, and with local Serb leaders, President Clinton may be sending a message to the KLA.