C O V E R I N G U P N A T O ‘ S B A L K A N B O M B I N G B L U N D E R
April 14, 1999
“Western leaders are busy re-writing history to justify their Balkan
bombing blunder. The change in information, rhetoric and explanations
since the bombings started on March 24 is literally mind-boggling. Most
likely they fear they have opened a very dark chapter in history and may
be losing the plot. One way to make failure look like success is to
construct a powerful media reality and de-construct real reality. That’s
the essence of media warfare and that’s what happens now,” says TFF
director Jan Oberg.
“For instance, you must have noticed that the The Kosovo Liberation
Army, KLA or UCK, which existed some weeks ago and allegedly
participated in Rambouillet now suddenly never existed. The 13-months
war in Kosovo/a also conveniently has been expurgated.
The last few days President Clinton, prime minister Blair, NATO General
Wesley Clark, foreign secretary Cook, foreign minister Fischer,
secretary Albright, defence minister Robertson and other Western leaders
have explained to the world why NATO bombs Yugoslavia. They made NO
MENTION of KLA or the war. Their speeches are surprisingly uniform.
Their main points are:
* We have evidence that Yugoslavia, i.e. President Milosevic had a plan
to ethnically cleanse Kosovo/a of all Albanians.
* One proof of this plan is that some 700.000 have been driven over the
borders; it would have been many more, if not all 2 million Albanians,
had NATO not taken action.
* Milosevic deployed 40.000 troops and 300 tanks in the region even
while his delegation was in Paris.
* ‘We have reports’ and ‘there are stories’ about mass graves, rapes,
and endless atrocities. We have no hard evidence, but that’s what
refugees consistently tell.
* Milosevic is now ‘a cruel dictator’ and ‘a serial ethnic cleanser.’
* Innocent civilians are driven away ‘only because of who they are and
not because of anything they have done,’ as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair
* Milosevic has not been in compliance with the agreement he signed with
ambassador Holbrooke in October last year.
Why is this not credible, why is this probably a ‘narrative’ made to
influence emotions, perceptions, enemy images, and ultimately the
behaviour of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals?
Let me give you a few facts from my own visits and repeated meetings
over the years with the civilian Kosovar Albanian leadership, the
opposition and independent intellectuals in Pristina,” says Oberg. “Dr.
Ibrahim Rugova repeatedly told me, as he did everyone from the West who
cared to listen, that he feared he could not keep the Albanian people
behind his pragmatic nonviolent strategy if the West did not ‘do
something’ such as persuade Belgrade to participate in talks mediated by
the international community.
Years ago I met Kosovar Albanians who were very critical of Dr. Rugova’s
‘passive’ leadership and advocated guerrilla struggle as the only way
out, sooner or later. In 1996 I was told by well-informed Albanian
intellectuals that they would not rule out that there existed an armed
fraction. Last year advisers to Dr. Rugova told me that they had heard
about the liberation army as early as 1993.
For years, I would say, Kosovo has been a police state. The only
response Belgrade had to the legitimate Albanian grievances was to step
up police repression. I have no doubts about the fact that there were
gross, systematic violations of political, economic, cultural and other
human rights. The Albanians feared Belgrade – which insisted that it
was an internal problem but never took steps to find a solution. At the
same time, the Albanian leaders ‘needed’ the repression to mobilize
international support for their project of an independent Kosova. Thus,
they refused to deal with moderate, dialogue-inclined leaders such as
prime minister Milan Panic and his excellent ministers in 1993.
Be this as it may, the truth is that there was no war, no mass killings,
no systematic ethnic cleansing, no genocide. Many Albanians left because
of the repression but also because of the misery, the utter poverty and
lack of future opportunities for themselves and their children. Serbs,
too, left for such reasons and not – as they sometimes claim – because
they were victims of an Albanian genocide plan.
The conflict that was said to have started in 1989 erupted into war in
February 1998 when KLA surfaced. It can NOT be denied that KLA activity
changed the situation from repression to war. The most surprising is a)
that the West turned a blind eye to Albania’s role as a training ground
and base for KLA, b) that, in its consequences, Albanian policies
amounted to de facto aggression against Yugoslavia, c) that KLA was
armed by predominantly Western sources in contravention of the United
Nation Security Council’s embargo on any arms imports into the
territories of former Yugoslavia, d) that nobody thought of closing the
border to prevent spilling-in of soldiers, weapons and ammunition and
the spilling-over of Yugoslav reprisals and e) that Yugoslav armed
forces, by and large, let these incursions happen for months without
taking action against them.
US envoy Robert Gelbard said on February 23, 1998 that he was “deeply
disturbed by the UCK” and that it was “undoubtedly a terrorist
organization.” One week later the Yugoslav offensive against it began.
So much for the present Western cover-up which seek to make us forget
the pivotal role of KLA in this crisis.
Next, what about the argument that Milosevic did not keep his promise to
Holbrooke of October last year? It would be a good point if that was not
a one-sided agreement. While there were two forces fighting fiercely in
Kosovo – various Yugoslav/Serb police and military forces on the one
side and KLA on the other – the agreement was signed only by Milosevic.
KLA declared a cease fire on their side, but never signed any document.
One-party cease fires are as unique as they are untenable.
We were told and saw pictures of a war that had raged in the province
for 13 months. Albanians intellectuals and editors I talked with during
visits to Pristina in autumn 1998 told me proudly when asked who the KLA
was that ‘that’s everyone of us, we are a people in arms.’ Sheltered by
the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal, KLA seized 30% of the province’s
territory. Radical Albanians gave visitors the crystal clear impression
that victory was around the corner. That is, until Belgrade had had
During those 13 months, around 2000 people were killed and 250.000
people displaced – about 10% of the province’s Albanians and 10% of its
Serbian citizens – but few of them, fortunately, fled outside Kosovo.
Two weeks after NATO action began, suddenly 750.000 had run over the
borders and NOW we are told that there were only innocent civilian
Albanians in Kosovo who, as President Clinton stated it on April 12, are
driven away ONLY because of who they are and not because of anything
they have done.
It seems more probable to me that people run away for three reasons, not
one: a) because of ethnic cleansing by Serb/Yugoslavs who feel that the
ongoing destruction of Yugoslavia is the result of Albanian policy, b)
because of the war between Yugoslav and KLA forces, and c) because of
NATO’s bombs which repeatedly also happens to hit civilian targets.
Was there a plan to cleanse the area? No one who maintains it has shown
any hard evidence. Before March 24 this year no politician had told us
about Milosevic’ alleged plan. No humanitarian organizations had warned
about a major, systematic campaign to drive out 1-2 million people. If
OSCE with 1500 verifiers knew about such a plan – and they listened in
on Yugoslav communication – why did it not alert the world? If Belgrade
wanted to get rid of all Kosovo-Albanians, it could have done so at any
time since 1991. It never touched any Albanian leader or tried to
prevent the building of their parallel state. Why did NATO threaten to
bomb Yugoslavia if it would not sign the Rambouillet document but said
nothing about bombing it because of the existence of such a plan?
Are 40.000 troops and 300 tanks indicative of such a plan? Hardly.
Troops and tanks are not the prime tools to make people run away. They
were deployed in the province when NATO deceived Yugoslavia. You see,
Holbrooke probably forgot to tell Milosevic that NATO would deploy an
‘extraction force’ in Macedonia. Its task was to protect the
‘extraction’ from Kosovo of the unarmed OSCE verifiers in the event of
NATO bombings – an activity that could lead to them being taken hostage
by the Serbs. So, NATO’s bomb threat was real from October. Would your
country do nothing if threatened for months with bombings by history’s
most powerful military alliance?
With the OSCE verifiers peacefully out, NATO did not withdraw the force
but had already begun to increase it from 3.000 to 12.000 (and forgot to
consult the Macedonian parliament). Yugoslavia had very legitimate
reasons to see this as an extremely unfriendly “signal” and moved troops
down to the Macedonian border to “signal” its determination to fight
that force, should it cross the border into Kosovo. KLA was sucked in by
the presence of the Yugoslav units and fighting intensified in an area
where no fighting had taken place before. All this BECAUSE of NATO’s
What is now called evidence of a grand design for ethnic cleansing by
Western leaders was nothing but the response to NATO’s remarkably
unwise, clumsy and adventurous attempt to force Macedonia into the role
of an ally and major NATO base. It was a perfectly natural response to
NATO’s repeated threat of a massive air campaign. It – predictably –
resulted in an almost complete political destabilization of the
Macedonian government and a socio-economic destabilization because of
the NATO-provoked refugee flows.
Finally, Milosevic is a ‘cruel dictator’? Well, if so why has the West
helped him be central, relied on his signature in Dayton and never
extended any help to the opposition in Belgrade – not even when 1,5
million people demonstrated against him a couple of years ago? Why has
ambassador Holbrooke and scores of Western diplomats had ‘interesting’
talks with him? Why did the West hope for a last-minute concession from
him to avoid the bombing it threatened? What do we do with ‘cruel
dictators’ who are elected by citizens many of whom would certainly call
him authoritarian or see his policies a catastrophic but who never saw
him as a cruel dictator? And why does NATO repeat the mistake from Iraq
– to bomb a country only to see its people unite completely behind their
In summary, NOT ONE OF NATO’s PRESENT ARGUMENTS HOLDS WATER. They
contradict facts, they contradict what Western leaders themselves told
us yesterday. What we witness is a pitiful attempt at “perception
management” and media war against public opinion.
We should get suspicious,” concludes Jan Oberg, “when Western civilian
and military top leaders within days seek to rewrite and falsify
history, omit well-documented facts and central actors, change the
sequence of events and forget what they stated and did only a couple of
weeks ago. It’s particularly disturbing if you see a systematic bias or
tendency in those changes. And it bodes ill, indeed, when the majority
of journalists ask only politically correct questions to State
Department and NATO spin doctors and spokespersons at a time that could
well turn out to be a defining moment of history.”
You are welcome to reprint, copy, archive, quote from or re-post this
item, but please retain the source.
Dr. Jan Oberg
Director, head of the TFF Conflict-Mitigation team
to the Balkans and Georgia
The War NATO Wanted BY DIANA JOHNSTONE Paris To justify their assault on Serbia, the United States and its obedient NATO allies claimed they had no choice. As the official story goes, Slobodan Milosevic (suddenly the reincarnation of Hitler who has the power to make all other citizens of Yugoslavia invisible to the Clinton administration) refused to negotiate and rejected the Rambouillet peace agreement. Therefore, there was nothing else to do but bomb Yugoslavia. This preposterous lie is only one among countless others. In reality, Belgrade never refused to negotiate. Rambouillet was never about negotiations. It was about presenting the Serbs with an ultimatum precisely designed to provide the pretext for NATO bombing. Rambouillet was a tragic farce, a low point in the history of diplomacy, in which the United States had to coax and cajole a band of well-armed criminals into signing the death warrant of their adversary, the legitimate government of Yugoslavia. The Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) is scarcely the sort of outfit one might expect to see invited to a famous French chateau to decide on the future of war and peace in Europe. The connection between KLA gunmen and the ethnic Albanians who dominate the heroin traffic through the Balkans from Turkey to Switzerland and Germany has been widely reported. As for ideology, violent ethnic Albanian irredentism has switched opportunistically from fascism during World War II, to "Marxism-Leninism" in the days of Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, to today's enthusiasm for NATO. The constant factor is hatred of Serbs in particular and Slavs in general. The rise of the KLA was a challenge to the leadership of the ethnic Albanian nationalists' nonviolent leadership, headed by Ibrahim Rugova. The killing of Serbs in Kosovo began in April 1996, thanks to the arms glut caused by the total collapse of law and order in Albania. Not only Yugoslav police but also ethnic Albanians branded as "traitors" were targeted. Last summer, by posing for news photographers with a KLA officer, Richard Holbrooke publicly signaled that the United States was dropping Rugova in favor of the KLA. The process was completed at Rambouillet with the Feb. 6 arrival of the official ethnic Albanian delegation of 16 members, five of them from the KLA. Rugova and the older generation of leaders were suddenly shoved onto the sidelines, as an unknown, 29-year-old KLA chieftain named Hashim "The Snake" Thaqi was introduced to the world as the leader of the delegation. The KLA's irresistible rise was nurtured notably by Morton Abramowitz, a prominent member of the U.S. foreign policy elite. Abramowitz served as ambassador to Thailand when the CIA's Bangkok bureau was perpetrating the "yellow rain" hoax that accused Vietnamese victims of U.S. chemical warfare of using chemical agents in Laos. In 1986, as assistant secretary of state in charge of intelligence and research in the Reagan administration, Abramowitz and top CIA officials accompanied Sen. Orrin Hatch to Beijing to work out a deal with China and Pakistan for providing Stinger missiles to Islamic Afghan rebels. He then passed, quite naturally, to the presidency of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Under the Clinton administration, he has participated in a blue-ribbon panel on CIA reform--selected by the Council on Foreign Relations--which recommended easing restrictions on covert actions. More recently, Abramowitz has been a leading figure in the high-level International Crisis Group, a leading designer of policy toward Kosovo. There, he became an advocate of arming the KLA. At Rambouillet, Abramowitz and another U.S. official, Paul Williams, led a team coaching the KLA delegation. Even so, at Rambouillet, 'The Snake" bit the hand that fed him and refused to sign the document. To the fury and dismay of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it was not the Serbs but the Albanian KLA that balked, depriving the United States of its pretext to launch a NATO war against the Serbs. Rambouillet was adjourned. Former Sen. Bob Dole, recipient of generous campaign contributions from the Albanian-American lobby during his political career, was dispatched to the Balkans to urge the Albanians to sign the treaty--not to make peace, but to "maintain pressure" on the Serbs. KLA leaders were bribed with a promise of a "visit to Washington to discuss matters of interest," notably the future of the KLA--veiled language meaning that the United States would not insist on disarming the KLA, but would find some formula for transforming what U.S. envoy Robert Gelbard had described as a "terrorist" group into "liberated" Kosovo's police force. So it was that the Serbs and the Kosovar Albanians were summoned back to Paris to sign, as is, an agreement that in effect would detach Kosovo from Serbia and put it under the joint control of NATO and whichever ethnic Albanians NATO chose--apparently, the KLA. There were no negotiations. Instead, Serbia's Milan Milutinovic and his (multi-ethnic) delegation were presented with an ultimatum: Either accept the "peace agreement" concocted by Christopher Hill (Holbrooke's second at Dayton who is now posted as U.S. ambassador to Macedonia) allowing NATO to take over Kosovo, or else be bombed. This ultimatum in itself was a violation of international law, which invalidates agreements obtained by the threat or use of force, according to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. And the terms were totally unacceptable. Kosovo's "self-government" was to be run by a NATO official, with the title of Chief of the Implementation Mission, or CIM. The CIM would have the final say over virtually everything and everybody. Kosovo would be occupied by a NATO force called KFOR. No ceiling was placed on the size of KFOR forces, which would have full control of airspace over Kosovo, be immune to prosecution or liability under local law, and have free access to the rest of Yugoslavia--a license to invade the rest of the country on one pretext or another. The agreement called for withdrawal of Serbian police and armed forces, but the fate of "other forces" (no mention of the KLA, which thus escaped any commitment or obligations) would be decided later by the KFOR commander. Not only Milosevic, but any Serbian opposition party, was bound to reject such terms. And yet compromise was not impossible. The Yugoslavs were ready to make huge concessions, but not to welcome NATO. NATO was the sticking point. A U.N. peacekeeping force might well have been acceptable. However, the Clinton administration insisted on NATO or nothing. The rise of the KLA, backed by the United States and Germany (German intelligence reportedly played an important role in equipping the rebels), made it extremely dangerous for any more moderate ethnic Albanian leaders to negotiate with the Serbs. The KLA repeatedly announced what would happen to such "traitors." By backing the KLA, the United States weakened the more moderate forces on both sides. On December 21, 1998, the State Department released information from the Kosovo Diplomatic Observer Mission that "the KLA harass or kidnap anyone who comes to the police," and that "representatives threatened to kill villagers and burn their homes if they did not join the KLA." It added that KLA harassment has reached such intensity that residents of six villages in the Stimlje region are "ready to flee." Kosovo's ethnic Albanian civilians have been trapped between devastating NATO bombing raids, KLA thugs and Serbian police. That refugees would flee from Kosovo in all directions (including northward into central Serbia, a fact ignored by Western media) is scarcely surprising. Yet NATO exploited the resulting misery and confusion on the borders to justify the very bombing that triggered the exodus. The suffering of the refugees is genuine and poignant. The interpretations by Western officials and media are not to be trusted. (After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the United States "ethnically cleansed" the West Coast of Japanese Americans, although Japan did not announce that it was bombing the U.S. on behalf of armed Japanese-American secessionists.) Various compromise proposals have been made from the Serb side over the years. They have been totally ignored by Western governments and media, which have claimed to be in favor of "restoring Kosovo's autonomy" and opposed to secession. This double language has been interpreted by both sides as veiled support for the Albanian irredentism. Confident of Western backing, Albanian nationalist leaders have held out for independence rather than any form of living together with the Serbs in Serbia. Partition has been dogmatically ruled out by the United States on the "domino-theory" grounds that it would destabilize Macedonia. NATO bombing has done that already. U.S. and NATO meddling so far have produced all of the disasters they promised to prevent, and a few more. NATO is not waging peace. It is waging war and must be stopped. Diana Johnstone is a contributing editor of In These Times.For more Kosovo coverage from Diana Johnstone, check out MoJo wire's Kosovo forum at http://www.motherjones.com/total_coverage/kosovo/forum/