In Kosovo, a Warning to the Not-So-Good Guys

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The secretary won't necessarily disavow any knowledge of his actions, but James Rubin's visit to Kosovo may well be Mission Impossible. Madeleine Albright's spokesman visited the divided town of Mitrovica on Monday, a day after warning Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian leaders to end violence in the territory or risk a U.S. withdrawal. But despite having assiduously cultivated relations with leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army in the wake of the war, Washington may have little leverage over them. "Despite the formal disbanding of the KLA and the presence of the peacekeepers, violence against Serbs and other minorities hasn't decreased," says TIME Belgrade reporter Dejan Anastasijevic. "The KLA was founded as a fighting organization to drive the Serbs out of Kosovo and unite it with Albania, and for many of its members the war won't be over until those objectives are achieved. No amount of talking by Rubin will change that — in fact, since NATO has made clear that it doesn't want to get into a confrontation with the ethnic-Albanian community in Kosovo, it may have little option but to either tolerate increasing violence or else pull out altogether."

Signs of failure in Kosovo are troubling the Clinton administration, with Republican pressure slowly mounting against the continued presence of U.S. troops on an increasingly dangerous peacekeeping mission. In the face of Milosevic's crimes against humanity in Kosovo, Washington had, during and immediately after the war, elevated the KLA into the "good guys" in a scenario that may in reality have consisted only of different shades of gray. Indeed, Sunday's edition of Britain's Observer newspaper alleged that members of the U.N.-financed Kosovo Protection Corps — a civil defense force composed almost entirely of former KLA fighters — has been involved in extortion, torture, prostitution and murder. Reining in Kosovar hard-liners may be beyond the capability of a NATO-led military force whose stated overriding priority is ensuring the safety of its own men. And that's why despite the administration's hopes of keeping it out of the election-year headlines, Kosovo may prove too tempting a stick for GOP campaigners to avoid.