WHAT IS HAPPENING in Kosovo today is eerily reminiscent of the early stages of the Bosnian war.
Serbian army units surround villages accused of harboring "terrorists." Artillery barrages send the civilian inhabitants fleeing to neighboring Albania. The Serbs then torch their homes so they have nothing to return to.There haven't been any large-scale massacres yet. Only 250 or so have died since February. But we are seeing the start of another "ethnic cleansing," the tactic perfected by Bosnian Serbs - and later adopted by their Croat and Muslim enemies - to "purify" regions captured in their 40-month war.
More than 200,000 people were killed in the Bosnian war and 2 million became refugees, many of them fleeing to Germany and other European countries..
The architect of that modern-day holocaust was Slobodan Milosevic, then president of Serbia, now president of the rump Yugoslavia that includes Montenegro. He escaped indictment as a war criminal only because the United States needed his signature on the Dayton peace agreement.
But, having helped end the war he started in Bosnia, Milosevic launched a new war, and another round of "ethnic cleansing," in Kosovo.
What is the rest of the world doing about it? Not much, except a lot of hand-wringing. The six-nation Contact Group that has been trying to resolve the Kosovo crisis for three months displays the same lack of international resolve that hampered the U.N. peace-keeping mission in Bosnia until President Clinton finally authorized NATO intervention and halted the fighting.
Kosovo's problem is that it is not a separate country but a province of Serbia. Although its 2 million people are 90 percent Albanian, Serbs consider it the cradle of their civilization "stolen" by Muslim immigrants after the Ottoman Turks won the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389.
Skipping several centuries, the Albanian majority was granted autonomy by Josip Broz Tito, the Communist leader who forcibly suppressed ethnic tensions and held Yugoslavia together during the Soviet era. But Milosevic revoked that autonomy in 1989, outlawed the Albanian language and got rid of the Albanian-dominated civil service in Kosovo.
The province fought back by forming underground schools and electing a parallel government to the one in Belgrade. Its "president," Ibrahim Rugova, is an author and leader of the Kosovo Writer's Association, which evolved into Kosovo's first independent political party.
Rugova favors a non-violent struggle for independence. But the Kosovo Liberation Army, which surfaced in 1996, has embarked on a terrorist campaign that grows in strength with every Serbian attempt to crush it. Milosevic's first major offensive against the KLA in February and March ended with the guerrillas controlling half of Kosovo.
Britain and the United States have threatened military intervention. In March, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Washington "cannot stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with in Bosnia."
But all the Clinton administration has been able to come up with so far is more sanctions, which never discouraged Milosevic during the Bosnian war and have not even been imposed yet to give him time to reach an accommodation with Rugova in talks arranged by U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who engineered the Dayton accord.
So far, those talks have gone nowhere. All six Albanian parties in Kosovo accuse Milosevic of using the negotiations as a cover for further "ethnic cleansing."
And NATO has not been much help. As in Bosnia, the Western alliance shrinks from direct military involvement in Kosovo. NATO will intervene if the fighting spreads to Albania and Macedonia, but has no contingency plans for stopping the fighting at its source, in Kosovo.
So as long as it remains part of Serbia, "Slobo-Saddam" can do pretty much what he likes there.