Killing goes on

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 August, 1999, 12:00am

Having gone to war to protect Kosovo Albanians from Serb persecution, Nato is now trying to protect Serbs there from Albanian persecution, but it is an uphill task.

Since the conflict ended, a Serbian population of more than 200,000 is reduced to 50,000 and falling, as murder, assault and intimidation cause more to flee. Many of those left behind are elderly people who took no role in the past fighting, but are nevertheless victimised by Albanians bent on revenge or Albanian criminal gangs bent on pillage.

Kosovo, like much of the Balkans, remains a territory of fierce tribal and ethnic loyalties, which all too often can lead to terrible violence. Nato thought it was fighting for a multi-ethnic province. Instead, it seems about to inherit a long-term 100 per cent Albanian protectorate, ethnically cleansed by the victims of ethnic cleansing, who can be as cruel as their former tormentors when given a chance.

While troops battle against revenge attacks and a mounting crime wave, Nato faces a greater dilemma. If it gives it up, Serbia seems sure to come back to assert claims over Kosovo. But independence is not an option, because of the risk that Kosovo might try to join Albania proper and perhaps the Albanian portion of Macedonia to form a Greater Albania. That would not be acceptable because it would disrupt too many borders and political sensibilities.

So Nato is stuck with an area it can't rule effectively but which it dare not surrender. At least, not unless member states grow so tired of the cost and trouble they simply go away, leaving Kosovo to fend for itself as best it can.

Meantime, Kosovars are better off than under Serb control, but there is no peaceful solution in sight. The persecution of the innocent and not-so-innocent continues in a province lacking even a proper framework for law and order. It seems doubtful a UN international police force will be able to bring peace to a territory where crack troops struggle to keep order.