Socialist Worker

Kosovo: a year on from Nato's war

Issue No. 1700

Kosovo: a year on from Nato's war

The poorest, most ethnically divided place in Europe

NATO'S BOMBING of the Balkans ended a year ago this Saturday. Western governments justified the war by saying they were acting to stop the suffering of Kosovan Albanian refugees. In fact the bombing triggered the mass exodus of refugees and deepened the very catastrophe it was supposed to prevent.

The 12 months since have produced a human catastrophe every bit as great, as Serbs and Roma people have been driven from Kosovo in turn. And Kosovan Albanians who found refuge in Western countries now face deportation by the very governments which shed tears over their plight a year ago. KEVIN OVENDEN shows how the lies and myths used to justify the war have been exposed.


"WE HAD to act to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe."

  • Tony Blair, May 1999

NATO'S BOMBING campaign accelerated the violence in Kosovo and triggered the mass exodus of refugees it claimed it was trying to avoid. Opponents of the war such as Socialist Worker said this at the time. Now a 900 page report from human rights monitors working for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe confirms it. Fighting between Serbian forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army led to 33,000 people a month being driven from their homes in Kosovo in the three months before the bombing started.

During the bombing that figure leapt to 250,000 a month. Since the war that human catastrophe has been followed by another. NATO forces and the UN administration have presided over the mass expulsion of Serbs from Kosovo.

The UN High Commission for Refugees estimated in February that armed Albanian gangs had driven 230,000 Serbs from Kosovo. That is about 90 percent of the pre-war Serb population-a higher proportion than of Albanians who fled in terror of Serbian forces. Stanimir Vukicevic works with the UN in the Yugoslav Committee for Cooperation with the UN in Kosovo. He said in December of last year that 1,400 Serbs had been killed or kidnapped by Albanian gangs since the bombing. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 50,000 Roma Gypsies had also fled Kosovo by the end of last year.

The reality in Kosovo today is a far cry from the claim by NATO spin doctor James Shea last year that "we will rebuild a multi-ethnic, democratic Kosovo." Kosovo is the poorest, most violent, and most ethnically divided place in the whole of Europe. The UN's human rights envoy to Kosovo, Jiri Dienstbier, said in March of this year, "NATO peacekeepers have not achieved a single one of their goals. "Not the security of the people, nor freedom of movement...nor restoring the conditions which would allow development of democratic institutions in a multi-ethnic society."

A UN mission runs Kosovo like a 19th century European colonial administration. No ordinary Albanians or Serbs have any say. The West promised to pour cash into the reconstruction of Kosovo. It has not even delivered enough money to keep the UN mission there going. As of mid-March it had received only $190 million of the $415 million it says it needs.

The Kosovo Liberation Army, which the West backed, now forms the bulk of the national guard in Kosovo. It has fractured into rival factions. One has been trying to launch a new war through armed raids in Serbia. The leaders of two others were assassinated by rivals this year.

During the war NATO leaders and the bulk of the press claimed military action was needed to prevent "genocide". Most independent observers say that 2,400 people-mainly Albanians, but also Serbs and others-were killed in Kosovo in the 12 months up to NATO's war. Most estimates say that between 4,000 and 5,000 people were killed during the 11 weeks of bombing, largely by Serbian forces. Those deaths were an immense human catastrophe. But they do not amount to a "genocide"-the systematic attempt to murder a whole people-which NATO said it was preventing.

Many newspapers repeated NATO's claim at the start of the war that "100,000 Albanian men were missing in Kosovo, presumed murdered by the Serbs". Pro-war journalists said anti-war campaigners would be exposed when "mass graves were uncovered in Kosovo containing tens of thousands of bodies". War crimes investigators have found atrocity sites where Serbian forces killed Albanian civilians. But they have not found the equivalents of the Nazis' death camps.

A team of Spanish investigators was told to prepare for over 2,000 autopsies of bodies in. mass graves. They found 187 bodies, not in mass graves.


"WE GAVE the Serbs every chance to negotiate, but they would not come to an agreement."

  • Bill Clinton, May 1999

THE US deliberately scuppered negotiations which could have averted the war. US state department spokesperson James Rubin now admits, "Obviously, publicly, we had to make clear that we were seeking an agreement, but privately we knew the chances of the Serbs agreeing to it were quite small."

Even Henry Kissinger, a veteran advocate of US aggression, said, "The Rambouillet text, which called on Serbia to admit NATO troops throughout Yugoslavia, was a provocation, an excuse to start bombing." Talks took place in Rambouillet in France between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian representatives before the bombing.

They reached agreement on many issues. Then US officials insisted on a clause in the agreement which would give NATO forces unfettered access to the whole of Serbia. They knew that no Serbian government could agree to that.

The war ended with the imposition of an administration on Kosovo which was, at least officially, under the control of the United Nations. In other words, 78 days of bombing resulted in the kind of arrangement that the Serbian parliament had voted to accept before the war started.


"WE SEVERELY crippled the Serb military."

  • defence secretary William Cohen

CIVILIANS WERE the real targets. Newsweek magazine obtained a leaked copy of a report by the US air force. The magazine says: "Air power was effective in the Kosovo War not against military targets but against civilian ones. Military planners do not like to talk frankly about terror bombing ('strategic targeting' is the preferred euphemism) but...making the Serb populace suffer...threatened Milosevic's hold on power."

The Economist Intelligence Unit reports that NATO probably killed more Serb civilians than soldiers. It puts the civilian death toll at 1,500. The independent Human Rights Watch organisation confirmed NATO had killed at least 500 civilians, wounding 6,000 more.

Its executive director, Kenneth Roth, says, "All too often NATO targeting subjected the civilian population to unacceptable risk." NATO finally confirmed five months after the war that it had used toxic uranium tipped shells in Kosovo. The US admitted firing 31,000 of the poisoned shells in Kosovo, dumping ten tonnes of radioactive waste.

NATO also used cluster bombs, which create hundreds of mines when they explode. Such bombs have killed or maimed an average two people a day since the war. NATO's claims to have destroyed large parts of the Serb military have been exposed as lies.

The chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff claimed that NATO had destroyed "around 120 tanks, about 220 armoured personnel carriers and up to 450 artillery pieces". But the leaked US air force report admitted that NATO bombs left the Serbian army virtually unscathed.

It found that NATO destroyed just "14 tanks, 18 personnel carriers and 20 artillery pieces". NATO said its pilots had achieved 744 confirmed strikes. Yet its own investigators found evidence of only 58 "successful" strikes.


Intervention a disaster

THE WEST'S intervention has brought disaster to the Balkans and it is not over. There is renewed instability in Albania where two rival factions are each appealing for NATO's support to smash the other.

The bombing has intensified divisions in Macedonia between Albanians and the majority of the population. Any break up of that state could draw in neighbouring Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece.

Yet Western forces are looking to intervene elsewhere in the world using the same excuse of humanitarianism they used in Kosovo. Britain has troops in Sierra Leone. Powerful voices in the US are calling for military intervention in Colombia, South America. Everyone should remember the lies our rulers told over Kosovo. We should not let them get away with it again.


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Sat 10 Jun 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1700
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