New Dangers for NATO in Kosovo

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United Nations investigators search for clues to the explosion in Pristina

Getting U.S. troops out of Kosovo may start to look like an increasingly attractive idea in Washington, because the NATO forces sent to keep a cold peace may soon find themselves caught in a hot war. Four Serbian policemen were reported killed and several wounded with heavily armed Albanian guerrilla units inside Serbia Wednesday, while a bomb blast at the Pristina residence of Yugoslavia's representative in Kosovo killed one man and wounded another. The renewed attacks coincide with mounting frustration among more nationalist Kosovar Albanians that the political changes in Belgrade, and the rapprochement with the West those have precipitated, have put their own campaign for independence in geopolitical limbo. And suspicion naturally falls first on elements of the formally disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, which have been accused of continuing a campaign of low-level violence against the territory's remaining Serb minority and also of backing a separatist guerrilla movement in the heavily ethnic-Albanian villages of the Presevo Valley just across the border inside Serbia.

The new government in Belgrade has denounced the alleged infiltration of some 400 ethnic-Albanian guerrillas into the area from Kosovo, and has warned that unless the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force clamps down on such activity, Yugoslavia would be forced send its own army in to deal with the problem. Although inside Serbia, the ethnic-Albanian villages fall within the demilitarized zone established at the end of the Kosovo conflict, which allows Belgrade to maintain only police units there. The nationalist attacks on Serbian policemen appear to mimic the earlier strategy of the KLA, which used such attacks to goad Belgrade into a brutal response that eventually drew in NATO.

But this time around, NATO may behave quite differently. The Western alliance has repeatedly warned nationalist elements against fomenting trouble along the border, and has conducted a number of raids against suspected guerrilla bases inside Kosovo. While the U.S. may look more sympathetically on demands for Kosovo's independence, most NATO members remain strongly opposed — and the U.N. resolution enabling the peacekeeping mission recognizes that the territory will remain an autonomous part of Yugoslavia.

The KLA element in Kosovar Albanian politics was, of course, dealt a serious blow in local elections throughout the territory three weeks ago, which saw a landslide victory for the party of moderate leader Ibrahim Rugova. That suggests that the majority of the ethnic-Albanian community are willing to pursue their desire for independence via negotiation with the new regime in Belgrade. But for those KLA hard men who remain determined to use any means necessary to win independence for Kosovo and unite it with Albania, NATO troops may become an obstacle in their path. And that could make the peacekeeping mission more than a little distasteful to some key NATO members.