Analysis By Farhan Haq
In a week in which U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan denounced the Yugoslav government for a "scorched-earth policy" in Kosovo, the world body's low level of action in the region showed up the divisions between Western powers as the crisis worsened. Annan repeatedly pushed for a greater U.N. role in monitoring the Kosovo conflict between the army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the rebel Kosovar Liberation Army (KLA). In a report issued this week, he warned the Security Council that the U.N. mandate in Kosovo remained limited at a time when "centrifugal tendencies appear to be gaining ground." "The sharp escalation of violence and the reported use of excessive force by security forces against civilians as part of the government operations against the KLA are cause for both distress and alarm," Annan said. U.N. officials added that the entire region -- which has seen the 1991-95 fighting in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Yugoslavia, as well as last year's unrest in neighboring Albania -- could be affected by the increasingly violent Yugoslav crackdown on Kosovo, a province populated heavily by ethnic Albanian Muslims. Despite U.N. worries, the 15-nation Security Council is no nearer to granting the United Nations a mandate to intervene in Kosovo, as seen by the Council's lukewarm response to Annan's warning yesterday of scorched-earth tactics by the Yugoslav troops. Instead of issuing an official action, the Council, after meeting with Undersecretary-General Kieran Prendergast yesterday, merely released a statement voicing "grave concern" over the fighting and deploring the "excessive use of force" by Belgrade's troops. In general, as Annan himself has conceded, leadership on the crisis has fallen into the hands of the Contact Group -- a coalition comprising Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the United States -- which has been reluctant to allow a greater U.N. role in mediating the crisis. As a result, the Security Council -- on which all the Contact Group members, except for Germany, have veto power -- has kept the United Nations largely out of the crisis, with the members unable to agree on any formal resolution on Kosovo. This inaction, in turn, angered even some Council members, who admitted that the work of the Contact Group had been ineffective. The Contact Group's efforts to handle the Kosovo crisis had "degenerated into a series of poorly coordinated initiatives," argued the Council's president, Ambassador Danilo Turk of Slovenia. "The Contact Group has been unsuccessful. It has been successful only at keeping the issue out of the reach of the United Nations." In addition, some permanent members of the Security Council have blocked any efforts by the Council to have a greater say in the matter. Although the United States remained concerned that the battle between Yugoslav forces and Kosovar separatists was spinning out of control, Russia -- Belgrade's main ally -- and China, a constant critic of U.N. interference in nations' internal affairs, were opposed to more U.N. involvement. Annan, therefore found himself in a bind as that standoff continued. On the one hand, the secretary-general was aware that the Kosovo crisis was intertwined with the tense relations among Yugoslavia, Albania, Bosnia -- and even more distant countries like Croatia and Hungary. On the other, Annan stressed repeatedly that one lesson of the Bosnia crisis was that the United Nations should involve itself in peacekeeping only when it had the resources and political backing to do so. As a result, U.N. agencies stepped up their warnings about the gravity of the conflict. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees reported that by the end of July, more than 100,000 people had been driven from their homes in the province. "The secretary-general is concerned that the evolving crisis, if unchecked, could lead to a large-scale humanitarian disaster with the approaching winter," said U.N. spokesman Juan Carlos Brandt. "He is deeply troubled by reports of the vast number of displaced persons without food and shelter and the increasing human rights violations." The problem is that, as with the breakup of Yugoslavia at the beginning of the decade, the worries about the human costs of the fighting take a back seat to geo-political concerns. Russia, already upset by what many politicians in Moscow consider the unfair price Belgrade had to pay in sanctions during the Bosnia and Croatia wars, remained unwilling to see its ally punished again over what is still a Yugoslav province. Western European nations, meanwhile, were not eager to repeat the bitter debates during the Bosnia war at a time when some of those governments view Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as a force for regional stability. Even the United States may be less than willing to take on the Kosovo crisis, following reports that some U.S. intelligence sources believed last week's bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi -- that killed some 250 people -- to be in retaliation for the arrests last month of four suspected terrorists in Albania. According to these sources, quoted in the U.S. media, Saudi-born financier and vocal U.S. opponent Osama bin Laden may have been able to use unrest in Bosnia and Albania to establish networks for his Islamist supporters in both countries. If those allegations can be proven, Washington would be all the less likely to take any steps that might enhance separatist or Islamist movements in the Balkans -- including in Kosovo.