Albright defends Kosovo mission amid bleak reports of abuses

WASHINGTON, Mar 16, 2000 -- (Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on Wednesday defended the international community's efforts in Kosovo amid bleak reports that the fragile peace there may be in danger of complete collapse.

Albright, testifying before a congressional subcommittee, told skeptical lawmakers that despite rising ethnic tension and violence between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs particularly in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica, continuing the peacekeeping mission and the UN civilian administration were essential.

And, she said last year's NATO bombing campaign aimed at halting Belgrade's ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians and the current programs were just causes.

"We've done something worthwhile," Albright said, adding that without the NATO action, the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force and the UN civilian administration, the situation would have been far worse.

"I'm happier sitting here answering your questions about where we are now than to be here and have you say, 'What? Weren't you doing anything? Didn't you care about what was going on in the Balkans?'"

Albright comments came amid reports in the Washington Post that ethnic Albanians, the people NATO went in to protect, were participating in human rights abuses against Serbs, inciting violence and that NATO might soon find itself in the position of fighting Kosovar Albanians.

Several lawmakers mentioned the reports in the questions, demanding to know why efforts at promoting peace and reconciliation were not apparently working.

Albright sought to allay some of their concerns, noting that her spokesman, James Rubin, and Balkans troubleshooter Christopher Hill had just returned from Kosovo where they delivered a blunt message to the ethnic Albanians.

"They went there for a specific purpose: to deliver a very tough message to the Kosovar Albanians about our displeasure about some of the things that are going on," she said.

Albright added that the ethnic Albanian leadership had been warned that unless attacks on Serbs stopped, they were in danger of losing international support.

The secretary allowed that Kosovo was not a full success story, but that the situation there had improved since last year.

"There is an awful lot left to do," she said. "There is no question about that (but) there has been some progress and we have to understand that its thanks to us, the United States in the lead, but others as well, that that is possible."

Earlier Wednesday, the Post cited an internal UN report that said Albanian members of the newly formed Kosovo Protection Corps have killed, tortured and blackmailed local citizens.

In addition, the paper quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon official as saying US troops in Kosovo may have to fight ethnic Albanian guerrillas who are rearming themselves and threatening to carry out attacks against Serbia.

Albright said the vast majority of Kosovar Albanians were interested only in getting on with their lives and that the violence was being sparked only by radical elements.

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