Wednesday, 15 March, 2000Allan Little's Kosovo
In the BBC documentary Moral Combat: Nato at War, BBC correspondent Allan Little presents his interpretation of Nato's war over Kosovo, with a detailed account of the conflict and an analysis of the politics and deal-making behind the scenes.
After many years covering events in the Balkans, Allan Little is now leaving for South Africa.
Allan Little answered a selection of your questions on the Kosovo conflict LIVE online. Read his responses below.
Andrei Popovici, USA: What do you think the exit strategy will be for Nato letting Kosovo join Albania or giving it back to the Serbs with some kind of autonomy?
Allan Little: Nato's already committed to this and its committed by dint of the peace agreement, which went through the UN security council. Nato is committed and all the member governments agree to the idea that Kosovo is an integral part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and I don't think there's much wiggle room on that.
However ultimately final status talks according to the USA will have to wait until a post-Milosevic Serbia. So I think that is on indefinite hold. You can see from other examples around the world, for example Cyprus, that those things can last years, even decades before they are finally resolved. I think this is one of those examples that's not going to be fixed in a hurry.
I think it's going to be very difficult for any country to start arguing that Kosovo should have independence, because I can't imagine any circumstances in which that will go through the UN Security Council. The Russians will certainly veto it, the Chinese would certainly veto it, and so far no Western country has even thought about the possibility of promoting Kosovan independence. Even those countries that fought most vigorously against Milosevic in the Nato alliance are committed to the idea that Kosovo is part of Serbia, part of Yugoslavia.
Michael Srbljanin, England: Was the final outcome of the war - ethnic cleansing of Serbs and others by Albanians - expected or calculated by the Nato alliance ? Does the Alliance feel "used" by the Albanians ?
Allan Little: Well, if it wasn't expected by the Alliance then it should have been because it was starkly obvious what happened once the Albanian deportees were allowed to return to their homes otherwise there would be revenge on the streets of Kosovo. If the Alliance didn't understand that then they weren't looking properly. I think they did take inadequate measures to promote the idea of multi-ethnicity.
Having said that, I have worked a lot in the former Yugoslavia and the old line that the whole thing was stirred up my ancient ethnic hatreds is nowhere more true than it is in Kosovo. I think there is a genuine level of ethnic hatred. You can smell it, you can feel it in the streets of Kosovo, the level of mutual distrust between the two parties.
One senior Albanian leader said to me that the way in which Milosevic had governed Kosovo these last ten years - he's turned the Serbs of Kosovo into colonial administrators. And really what had happened - all those innocent Serbs that were forced or are locked in ghettos protected by Nato troops now have had to pay the price of the criminal policies pursued by the leadership in Belgrade these 10 or 11 years. And in the end it is always the same people who suffer as a result of Milosevic's misadventures.
Doug, USA: I am struck by the refusal of the US led international community to accept the Albanians as the aggressor in this war. Why have we (the US-led international community) sponsored the Albanian movement?
Allan Little: This is very complicated. I have argued for the last decade that the principal aggressor and root of instability in the Balkans has been Milosevic and the nature of the Milosevic regime. It would be hard for me to turn round now and say that's no longer the case. I don't think the Albanians are the aggressor, I don't think there's any real doubt about that.
I think what happened is that halfway through the 1990s we entered into an agreement with the principal aggressor to bring peace to Bosnia. The consequence of that was that the Albanians of Kosovo who'd been trying peaceful resistance to the Milosevic regime for many years said, "hold on a minute, it's quite clear to us now what we have to do. If you want the International Community to pay attention you have to find guns and get yourself an armed uprising". The International Community taught them that lesson.
The KLA emerged in the late 1990s and started to apply that lesson, and bingo by 1999 they had Nato on their side. It's a very dangerous lesson to have taught. Although Nato has clearly sent a signal around the world that ethnic cleansing would not be tolerated and that Nato was prepared to intervene, it's also sent another signal. That signal is, if you want the world to pay attention never mind peaceful demonstration what you must do is take up arms. I fear that will have devastating consequences in Serbia itself.
Peter Day, UK: What was and is the source of funds that has enabled the KLA and its successors to buy arms?
Allan Little: I don't know. I think this is a very difficult question. The KLA is certainly funded by the Albanian Diaspora. Everyone may be aware of the allegations that the KLA are funded by criminal money, by Mafia money and so on. This is not something that I know a lot about. What I can say is that the collapse of civilised Albanian society and Albania proper in the late 1990 when all those armouries where looted and when the Pyramids scams collapsed. After that a lot of very cheap small arms crossed those mountains and into Kosovo.
And so I think that the complete breakdown of Albania proper was absolutely vital for the KLA which until that point had been a very small and shadowy and not very successful guerrilla clique if you like. Their project to transform the KLA into a genuine people's militia, a genuine people's uprising, the collapse of civil Albanian society was vital. So I know that a lot of arms came from there.
Michael Mehr, Switzerland: Throughout the Nato bombing campaign there were numerous claims of Nato planes and helicopters being shot down. The reports came from Tanjug and some local Yugoslav radio stations. Can these all be dismissed as simple propaganda from Milosevic's government?
Allan Little: Pretty much, I don't believe them. I think we know how many planes were shot down, two planes were shot down. The pictures were used very effectively by Serbian television and radio, and more if more planes had been shot down we would have seen them.
Everything that comes out of Belgrade has to be treated with a pinch of salt, and I don't believe anything that comes out of Belgrade that's not corroborated by another source. That's not to say that everything Belgrade says is a lie of course, but I think you have to treat it with suspicion.
John Guiliani, U.S.A: How many people were actually killed by Yugoslav forces in kosovo. How many of the bodies were those of innocent civilians and how many were of KLA fighters?
Allan Little: I don't know the answer to how many. Certainly many thousands, I don't think there is very much doubt about that. I don't think that establishing a precise number is important to the arguments about whether the war should have been waged by Nato. How many were innocent civilians and how many were KLA fighter, again, I don't know the answer to that. I don't think the answer to that is really knowable at this stage. Anybody that says that only military exchanges ended in casualties simply hasn't been watching the nature of the Belgrade regime this past decade. Of course innocent civilians were killed. We know that countless women and children suffered. The civilian communities were targeted, there is absolutely no doubt about that. The documentary evidence is there to stare you in the face.
Kevin May, UK: I have heard many people express doubts concerning the 'accidental' bombing of the Chinese embassy and also the bombing of the TV station in which many people were killed. Can you give me your opinion regarding these incidents.
Allan Little: The Chinese Embassy was as I understand it a CIA target, they picked that target and offered it up through the targeting process. When the Chinese Embassy was struck, Nato then claimed it was a mistake and that they thought it was some kind of defence procurement agency. I asked General Clarke about this, and I have absolutely no reason to disbelieve him on this point, he says when that was selected as a target it was selected in the belief that it was this defence procurement agency. But when I pressed him on it, what was clear was that we have to take the CIA's word for it, we have to take the CIA's word that that is actually what they genuinely thought it was.
A lot of people have said to me, "look can you honestly believe that the last CIA station chief in Belgrade did not know the address of the Chinese Embassy"? I can't believe that, because I think it's quite clear that American diplomats would have gone to cocktail parties in that building. The CIA however say there was a clerking error, they have produced what they say is evidence to support the contention that is was a clerking error, so there's absolutely no evidence to refute or challenge the US's claim that this was an error. Having said that the lack of evidence isn't always conclusive evidence of the opposite case so to speak.
The RTS building was hit well into the war, it wasn't a mistake it was struck deliberately. I think it didn't do Nato any good, it didn't advance the cause of the war one iota because six hours later by the time Belgrade woke up in the morning RTS was triumphantly back on the air reading the same news bulletin and playing the same interview with Milosevic that had been taken off the air. The only difference was fifteen or sixteen perfectly innocent people, civilians, security guards and technicians lost their lives as a result of that strike.
We spoke for our programme to the relatives of some of those people, and they're very serious and very earnest about who they blame. They blame Nato for targeting the building in the first place, unnecessarily they say. But they also blame the RTS management and the Yugoslav and Serbian governments because they believe the building could have been evacuated. Frankly if there was a contingency plan to get RTS back on the air from another location there should have been a contingency plan to get those people out of that building.
CNN knew it was going to be targeted. CNN who were based in the building - they pulled their people out and the RTS management should've taken that as a pretty clear signal about what was going to happen. I think there is absolute culpability on the part of the RTS management. None of the stooges who read the news on RTS who are loyal to the Milosevic regime suffered as far I know, they were safely out of the building. It was technicians and make-up ladies, and security guards who paid the price. You've got to ask Nato why they targeted that building and what good came out of it, because RTS was back on the air very quickly.
Peter Crawford-Bolton, UK (in US): In view of the recent tensions in the region, is the threat of further violence, involving Serbia, in the Balkans imminent?
Allan Little: Yes I think there is a real danger of further violence. I think that Milosevic is a rat trapped in a cage, and there's no way out for him now, he can't go anywhere. I suppose he could go to China or Belarus and enjoy some kind of retirement there. But there of course great fears that he'll try to destabilise Montenegro next and use conflict.
The thing about Milosevic is which has been understood about him for a long time is that conflict is his power-base. Without conflict he has to answer for all the woes that have befallen his people under his leadership. Of course he can't answer for them so he has to create an external enemy. He did it first with the Slovenes, then the Croats and then the Bosnians and then the Kosovar Albanians, which in a way is where he started in the late 1980s by removing Kosovo's autonomy.
Conflict has kept him afloat, because once you get into a war the tribal loyalty kicks in and he's manipulated and used that to great affect. It's pretty clear that all he cares about is staying in power. The difference now is that if he loses power, he loses his head. He can't go into retirement, I think that's absolutely clear.
There used to be a poster in Belgrade back in the late 1980s when Milosevic first emerged as the popular hero who'd asserted the rights of the Serbs in Yugoslavia. In the old communist style there was suddenly a portrait of Milosevic appeared in every shop window. There was a cartoon in one of the opposition newspapers in which Milosevic was seen looking in a shop window at his own portrait saying "What's going to become of us"? And the portrait replied, "One day they'll take me down and they'll hang you".
A lot of us have always suspected that Milosevic was ultimately more likely to pay the price for his crimes at the hands of his own people, rather than at the hands of International justice. I have a lot of difficulty imagining Milosevic in the dock at the Hague, I think his end will be a lot more unseemly that that.
S. Plimmer, U.K: Given all we have heard about Russian objections to much of NATO's actions in Kosovo, what is their role what is the relationship like between NATO and Russian troops on the ground?
Allan Little: When I was there at the end of last year, the relationship was very good. The Russian troops themselves were very frustrated that they didn't have their own sector. They wanted their own sector. I think there was a plan in the Russian Ministry of Defence to fly in thousands of paratroopers before Nato got there and corner off their own sector in the north of the country which would have had the effect of partitioning Kosovo and leaving Milosevic in control of the north. That plan didn't work because Nato responded very quickly and very deftly. But I don't think that plan had the backing of the political Russian leadership anyway, I think it was something the Russian Ministry of Defence was cooking up independently of the military leadership.
As to the Russian role, that was absolutely vital to the ending of the war. I think by the end of April the Nato allies understood the importance of getting the Russians on board. They completely disregarded Russian objections at the UN Security Council, they disregarded Russian objections at Rambouillet, but by the end of April they realised that they couldn't do it really without the Russians. They invited the Russians back in. The Russians opened up a new diplomatic channel and a secret back channel which we talked about in our programme. The result was that the signal went unambiguously to Milosevic that he couldn't expect Russian to come to his aid and it was because of that signal, I believe, that Milosevic ended the war.
What was most interesting to me was the nature of the deal that was done in Moscow between Yeltsin's people, the political leadership, and the military. I don't know the answer to that but there was clearly a deal at the end of May. Yeltsin in some way bought off the military. They were very unhappy with what was happening in Kosovo, public opinion was extremely unhappy, it's clear that Yeltsin felt very threatened and challenged both by the rising tide of public anger and by the strength that this gave the military, and he did something to strike a deal with the russian military. The price that the Russian military paid was to send the signal to Milosevic that they weren't going to come to his aid. What the military got in exchange is not clear. There is all sorts of speculation in Moscow but it is only that as far as I know.
Michael Ranson, England: Was it especially difficult to remain objective and impartial in your reporting given the morally and politically charged atmosphere of Kosovo? Is there ever a time when a BBC reporter should use is position to actively speak out against the British government?
Allan Little: No, I don't think that actively speaking out against the British government is necessary or appropriate. That said, it is equally unnecessary and inappropriate to speak out in favour of the British government. I don't think that either of those things is needed. There are a lot of problems with the terms objectivity and impartiality.
I had a lot of rows with people when I was reporting in Bosnia because I was being accused of losing objectivity and losing impartiality because I appeared to be anti-Serb. I have never considered myself anti-Serb ever. I consider myself anti-ethnic cleansing, I consider myself anti-atrocity and I consider myself anti-war and anti-aggression. I think, to me, objectivity and impartiality meant not treating all sides as if they were equally guilty, which was a morally cowardly think to do and let the guilty men off the hook.
To me objectivity and impartiality meant applying the same standards of critical scrutiny to all sides in equal measure. When you do that of course, all sides do not come out equally guilty. When you do that you can say with great confidence, this is the dynamic of the war, this is where the war is coming from, these are the people who wanted war, these are the people who organised war, these are the people which interests it is to perpetuate war.
The difficulty is that back here in the UK , it sounded to many people as though the process of doing that was making me come off the fence and defend one side against the other. Well I can categorically deny that I ever did anything of that sort. I was never anti-Serb or pro-Muslim, whatever that means. I was never pro-Bosnian. I was pro muilti-ethnicity. I was against ethno-fascism. I still am and I don't have any problem with that and I don't think it's not objective or not impartial to say that that's wrong
Michael, USA: When confronted by the horror you have no doubt witnessed, is there a sense of the surreal? In other words, does it feel that reality has been put on hold? If not, how do you cope?
Allan Little: There are certainly times when you confront a scene and you think to yourself, I simply do not believe what I'm seeing, I do not believe how anybody could have committed what we are witnessing now. I remember in 1993 when Bosnian-Croat forces went into a village and just killed everyone they could find. That is still unbelievable to me.
Srebrenica - oddly we all knew it was coming. Anybody who'd been anywhere near the Drena Valley since 1992 knew that as soon as Mladic's forces got into that enclave that hundreds if not thousands of men were going to be shot in the back of the head. What was genuinely surprising and shocking was that they took everybody, they didn't let anybody go, they killed all the men. They'd never done that before, normally they'd separate the men out into categories and say you're clearly the community leaders, you lot are the guilty ones and the rest are not and they'd kill what they consider to be the guilty ones. There was a pattern of that all over Bosnia during 1992, 1993 and 1994.
So yeah, you sometimes think I cannot believe this has happened, I do not believe what I'm seeing. It never seems surreal though, it seems shocking and brutal. As for how you cope, I dunno, you have to cling to the belief that reporting it is it worth it. You have to cling to the belief that it's better for the world to know about this than that it shouldn't and therefore there is some useful purpose of what you're doing. And if you can cling to that belief then you can cope with it. I must admit there have been times when I've felt it's not worth it, it's simply not making any difference. And when you start to believe that I think you should take a break.