As with most ruthless dictators, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic is learning he must reap what he sows. Now the rest of the world has to show whether it has the resolve to make him pay consequences before he sows a much broader conflict for the world to handle.

When he came to power in 1989, Milosevic revoked the self-governing powers of Kosovo, an area in the southern end of Serbia. Kosovo has a population of 2 million. Fully 1.8 million of those are Albanians. Yet Milosevic has stripped Albanians of their rights and has placed Serbians in charge, with the idea that the area eventually will be purged of Albanians and resettled entirely with ethnic Serbs.No one should be surprised, then, that the Albanians have developed militaristic tendencies and independence movements. Mi-lo-se-vic's decision in recent days to slaughter scores of Albanians, including children and senior citizens, has ignited a flame that, if not checked, could spread quickly to tense ethnic regions in neighboring states, most notably Macedonia. Then the world would have a much larger problem on its hands.

The only sure way to solve the conflict is to remove Milosevic from office. Ruthless dictators seldom are persuaded to change into benevolent and freedom-loving democrats. But the international community has little stomach for the type of mission that would entail. The next best thing, then, is to impose sanctions, and the world took a positive step in that direction Monday.

The United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and Italy agreed on a plan that includes an arms embargo on Yugoslavia. But Russia refused to go along with economic sanctions and a denial of visas to the Yugoslavs and Serbs responsible for the violence. That refusal further underscores the po-ten-tial for a widening of this crisis. Russia has close ties to fellow Orthodox Slavs in the region.

Still, the rest of the world is on the right track in dealing with this situation. Milosevic needs to earn respect for the rule of law. Eventually, Kosovo ought to be given self-governing status, but it can't be allowed to become an ethnically pure state, filled either with Albanians or Serbs.

Kosovo has tremendous historical significance. It was the place where Ottoman forces defeated the medieval Serbian empire in 1389 and contains many of Serbia's most sacred religious shrines. Serbs aren't likely ever to relinquish it totally.

The only peaceful solution is one that involves self-government, the rule of law and respectful cooperation among members of both ethnic groups. That was the situation that existed, more or less, for 15 years before Milosevic. That has to be the unified goal of the six nations that met on Monday.