Nato is set to step up Kosovo roleAllies Agree on the Need For Better Peacekeeping
By William Drozdiak
Paris, Saturday, February 26, 2000
BERLIN - Nearly one year after beginning an air war that drove Yugoslav forces out of Kosovo, the NATO allies acknowledged Friday that their peacekeeping operations in the troubled province must be improved if they hope to prevent further conflict between local Serbs and Albanians.
At a special meeting of alliance ambassadors in Brussels, senior military commanders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization complained that several nations were reneging on their troop contributions and withdrawing some of their soldiers on the ground from dangerous hot spots.
They appealed for the urgent dispatch of three battalions - up to 2,000 soldiers - to bolster the 30,000 NATO troops now in Kosovo.
NATO's commander, General Wesley Clark, and the head of the Kosovo peacekeeping force, General Klaus Reinhardt of Germany, warned there was a risk that simmering tensions in Kosovo could spiral out of control if allied nations weakened their military commitments just when President Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia seemed to be stirring up turmoil in a bid to secure a Serbian enclave in the northern part of the province.
While four nations - France, Italy, Spain and Britain - said they were willing to send more troops, other members said they were convinced that forces now present on the ground were sufficient to maintain order.
The NATO envoys agreed to study the precise military requirements as outlined by General Clark and General Reinhardt and will decide next week whether it may be necessary to send more soldiers.
General Clark sounded the alarm early this week when the city of Mitrovica, which is divided between Serb and ethnic Albanian communities, erupted in violent unrest that nearly overwhelmed French troops patrolling the city. They were quickly reinforced by units from six other NATO countries, and the potential breakdown was averted.
As NATO approaches the first anniversary of the March 24 air strikes that signaled the start of the 78-day war, the alliance's political leaders seem apprehensive about the prospect of intense criticism over the consequences of NATO's unprecedented attack against the territory of a sovereign nation.
While the air assault ousted Serbian forces from Kosovo and allowed more than a million refugees to return to their homes, there are no signs that the alliance has a clear strategy for restoring stability to the province.
Mr. Milosevic is still ensconced in power, hostility still rages between the Kosovo Serbs and ethnic Albanians, and the alliance has failed to live up to its pledges of providing a viable police force and long-term economic aid.
But the secretary-general of NATO, George Robertson, insisted that the alliance's mission had been successful. "The first point I want to emphasize is that the situation in Kosovo today in under control," he said. "Mitrovica is a flash point; it flared up but we dealt with the unrest quickly and decisively."
Lord Robertson said all of the allies were prepared to do more if necessary to ensure that their resolve did not slip.
In his briefing, General Reinhardt spelled out a stabilization plan for Mitrovica that included greater security for its Serb enclave, eliminating the city's dividing line, isolating the northern half so it cannot be manipulated by Belgrade, and controlling access of ethnic Albanians coming from southern Kosovo.