Decisive action

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 January, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 January, 1999, 12:00am

Keeping the peace is far more difficult than going to war. In Yugoslavia, it is also far more dangerous.

United Nations peacekeepers have been used as human shields, international monitors have been shot. In the latest outrage, as armed Serbian police marched back into the village where others of their number murdered and mutilated 45 unarmed Albanian civilians last week, observers from a cease-fire verification mission were once again forced to flee for their lives as the shooting restarted.

In this bloody conflict no allowance is made for those who do not carry weapons, whether they wear the blue beret of the UN forces, or are defenceless inhabitants going about their daily business. The massacre and mutilation of the villagers in Racak is merely the latest atrocity by Serb forces.

Without positive action from the UN, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation or one of the other international groups who have tried so long and to so little effect to end this inhuman business, it will not be the last.

Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic is the Balkan equivalent of Saddam Hussein. He barred the International Criminal Tribunal from the region when it attempted to investigate the carnage his forces wreaked on Prekaz in central Kosovo last March, and it is unlikely that it will be given access now.

As long as he reigns unchecked, a peaceful solution to the Kosovo question is impossible. Almost a year has passed since the European Union urged Mr Milosevic to restore autonomy to the Albanians who make up 90 per cent of Kosovo's population, warning that 'if he does not act, he must not be surprised if others do'.

On the present showing, the Yugoslavian leader should be very surprised indeed if any of these threats resulted in positive action. The slaughter of Albanians by Serbian police has been going on for years, and all talk of freezing aid to Yugoslavia, imposing visa bans and arms embargoes has achieved absolutely nothing.

As long as the Kosovo Liberation army is all that stands between the civilian population and the terror of genocide, it can count on support.

From a global perspective, there is more to fear from an escalation of the fighting into surrounding countries. Tension is high in Albania with former president Sali Berisha urging his countrymen to prepare for a life-or-death fight.

Like his counterpart in Baghdad, Mr Milosevic enjoys a cat-and-mouse game, and backs down only when military action seems inevitable.

He backed off over fears of NATO air strikes in October. He needs to be reminded that the order has not yet been rescinded.