[Returning OSCE human rights monitor offers a view from the ground in

by Rollie Keith

Canada is currently participating in the NATO coalition air bombardment
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, ostensibly to force compliance
with the terms of the Rambouillet and subsequent Paris "Interim
Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo". The justification
for this aggressive action was to force Yugoslavian compliance and
acceptance to the so-called "agreement" and to end the alleged
humanitarian and human rights abuses being perpetrated on the ethnic
majority Kosovar Albanian residents of the Serbi an province of Kosovo.
The bombardment then is rationalized on the basis of the UN Declaration
of Human Rights taking precedence over the UN Charter that states the
inviolability of national sovereignty. While I am concerned with human
rights abuse, I also believe many nations, if not all, would clearly be
vulnerable to this criticism; therefore, we require a better mechanism
to counter national human rights violations than bombing.

What, however, was the situation within Kosovo before March 20, and are
we now being misled with biased media information? Is this aggressive
war really justified to counter alleged humanitarian violations, or are
there problematical premises being applied to justify the hostilities?
Either way, diplomacy has failed and the ongoing air bombardment has
greatly exacerbated an internal humanitarian problem into a disaster.
There were no international refugees over the last five months of the
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's (OSCE) presence
within Kosovo and Internal Displaced Persons only numbered a few
thousand in the weeks before the air bombardment commenced.

As an OSCE Kosovo Verification Mission (KVM) monitor during February and
March of this year, I was assigned as the Director of the Kosovo Polje
Field Office, just west of the provincial capital of Pristina. The role
of the 1380 monitors of the KVM, from some 38 of the OSCE's 55 nations,
including 64 Canadians, was authorized under UN Security Council
Resolution 1199 to monitor and verify cease-fire compliance, or
non-compliance, investigate cease-fire violations and unwarranted road
blocks, assist humanitarian agencies in facilitating the resettlement of
displaced persons and assist in democratization measures eventually
leading to elections. The agreement which was the basis of the KVM (I
refer to it as the "Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement") was signed on
October 16, 1998, ending the previous eight months of internal conflict.
Given its international composition, the KVM was organized and deployed
quite slowly and was not fully operational on a partial basis until
early in 1999. By the time I arrived, vehicles and other resources along
with the majority of international monitors were arriving, but the
cease-fire situation was deteriorating with an increasing incidence of
Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) provocative attacks on the Yugoslavian
security forces. In response the security forces of the Ministry of
Internal Security police supported by the army were establishing random
roadblocks that resulted in some harassment of movement of the majority
Albanian Kosovars. The general situation was, though, that the bulk of
the population had settled down after the previous year's hostilities,
but the KLA was building its strength and was attempting to reorganize
in preparation for a military solution, hopeful of NATO or western
military support. Consequently the October Holbrooke-Milosevic agreement
restraining the Internal Security police and army was not strictly
adhered to, as unauthorized forces were deployed to maintain security
within the major communities and internal lines of communication. In my
estimation, however, the KLA was left in control of much of the
hinterland unchallenged, comprising at least some fifty per cent of the
province. In addition the parallel Albanian government of the Kosovo
Democratic League (KDL) continued to provide some leadership to the
majority of the Albanian Kosovars.

This low intensity war since the end of 1998 had resulted in a series of
incidents against the security forces, which in turn led to some
heavy-handed security operations, one being the alleged "massacre" at
Racak of some 45 Albanian Kosovars in mid-January. [NOTE; the "Racak
massacre" was so identified by William Walker, an Ameican diplomat
leading an OSCE war crimes verification team. Walker's sordid career,
described in the APPENDIX to the present article, throws considerable
doubt on the veracity of his account of this event, which Javier Solana
himself identifies as a turning point in the development of the Kosovo

Upon my arrival the war increasingly evolved into a mid intensity
conflict as ambushes, the encroachment of critical lines of
communication and the kidnapping of security forces resulted in a
significant increase in government casualties which in turn led to major
Yugoslavian reprisal security operations that included armour,
mechanized forces and artillery to secure there same lines of
communication. By the beginning of March these terror and counter-terror
operations led to the inhabitants of numerous villages fleeing, or being
dispersed to either other villages, cities or the hills to seek refuge.
As monitors we attempted to follow and report on these cease-fire
violations, but I and my fellow monitors also continued to work with
both Kosovo factions and the internally-displaced population to promote
the other aspects of our mission. In particular within our field office
area of responsibility, we were making progress to facilitate the
resettlement of an unoccupied village from the previous summer, while
six other villages were about to be abandoned due to the increasing
hostilities. As an example of this humanitarian work, we had conducted
some dozen negotiating sessions with both belligerents as well as
displaced villagers. Our objective was to create conditions of
confidence and stability and commence the resettlement of the village of
Donje Grabovac. This village of some 700 former inhabitants sits next to
a major coal mine guarded by security forces, which fuels an adjacent
thermal generating plant. On the other side of the village, less than a
kilometre away, the KLA also occupied another village. Donje Grobovac
was the scene of daily shooting incidents and in this case most were
probably initiated by the mine guards. Regardless, tensions were high
and fatal casualties and kidnapping of mine and security forces by the
KLA had occurred prior to our arrival. After our lengthy series of
negotiations, all participants agreed not to provoke their opponents and
we were about to escort former village delegations back to commence
resettlement. If this kind of program could have been expanded and built
upon throughout Kosovo, perhaps supported by an enlarged international
monitoring mission to better reduce the cease-fire violations, I believe
both the international air bombardment and intensified civil war would
have been avoided. But western diplomacy would have to be more flexible
for this to occur.

The situation was clearly that KLA provocations, as personally witnessed
in ambushes of security patrols which inflicted fatal and other
casualties, were clear violations of the previous October's agreement.
The security forces responded and the consequent security harassment and
counter-operations led to an intensified insurrectionary war, but as I
have stated elsewhere, I did not witness, nor did I have knowledge of
any incidents of so-called "ethnic cleansing" and there certainly were
no occurrences of "genocidal policies" while I was with the KVM in
Kosovo. What has transpired since the OSCE monitors were evacuated on
March 20, in order to deliver the penultimate warning to force
Yugoslavian compliance with the Rambouillet and subsequent Paris
documents and the commencement of the NATO air bombardment of March 24,
obviously has resulted in human rights abuses and a very significant
humanitarian disaster as some 600,000 Albanian Kosovars have fled or
been expelled from the province. This did not occur, though, before
March 20, so I would attribute the humanitarian disaster directly or
indirectly to the NATO air bombardment and resulting anti-terrorist

So what led to this breakdown of the peace process and the air
bombardment? The Rambouillet and subsequent amended Paris ultimatum
"Interim Agreement for Peace and Self-Government in Kosovo" was divided
into both political and military implementation accords. The political
accord called for a return of political, cultural and judicial autonomy
for Kosovo Province as previously provided in the 1974 constitution and
was generally acceptable to both factions. The stumbling block was that
the Serbian delegation insisted on the long-term territorial integrity
of Yugoslavia and the supremacy of federal law. With the KLA desiring
total independence, however, and American compliance, the Albanian
Kosovars were given the incentive of a referendum in three years time to
determine the ultimate political future of Yugoslavia. On the military
accord, the Contact Group, less Russia, and the Ambassador Chris Hill's
demand that a NATO force be employed to secure the Kosovo Implementation
Mission of the proposed plan was also completely unacceptable to
Yugoslavia, since it constituted foreign occupation of their sovereign
territory by the western alliance. In turn, the acceptance by the KLA of
their supervised disarmament was only accepted after American political
inducements of obvious independence were offered. The result then is
that proposed agreements were in fact ultimatums, unacceptable to Russia
as well as Yugoslavia, as they left that nation with the clear
alternative of surrender or bombardment.

Was there a diplomatic alternative? I believe there always has to be
political alternatives to war, although I an not a pacifist and I do
believe that defensive hostilities may be justifiable for the right
cause. The western members of the Contact Group, the European Union and
the United States and the Russian Federation could have worked within
the United Nations and kept the Russians on side. As an inducement to an
enhanced OSCE or UN monitoring presence within Kosovo, Yugoslavia could
have had its 1991 economic sanctions cancelled and economic
restructuring funds offered to promote its integration within the new
Europe, with a guarantee, in return, to eliminate human rights concerns
within Kosovo. This proposed enhanced OSCE presence, perhaps supported
by a limited armed UN presence, may well have been acceptable to the
western power, in order to monitor a fair and genuine Kosovo agreement.

However, the NATO bombardment has been counterproductive, as it has
created a significant European humanitarian problem of more than 600,000
external refugees that threaten to destablize the surrounding vulnerable
nations, exacerbating regional security. Another estimated 600,000 plus
internally-displaced Kosovars are also being subjected to the
deprivations of the full-scale civil war. Then in the end the
international community will also have to rebuild not only Kosovo, but
the rest of Yugoslavian to ensure their future participation in the new
Europe of the 21st century, This is what the failure of diplomacy with
its consequent ill-prepared and ill-conceived air bombardment has

What is crucial to have happen then, is that the unjustified moral
certitude that that has resulted in the demonization and vilification of
Yugoslavia and its nationalist President Milosevic cease, and be
replaced by a rational discourse to enable a fair and just solution to
be agreed to.

NATO has gone to war to prevent the humanitarian expulsion of an ethnic
minority and has caused the catastrophic Kosovo population displacement
to occur. The western government, led by inept diplomats and
politicians, have failed to provide a rational and diplomatic
alternative, and instead have incited an irresponsible public opinion,
whose conscience has led it to demand actions to solve problems that it
does not comprehend. NATO is now in a war that it cannot win. Its
objective of liberating the Kosovo Albanians from Serbian misrule has
been counterproductive, and has resulted in their expulsion. The war has
broken international law, disregarded the UN Charter, and violated the
NATO mandate. This has arguably irrevocably damaged the dreams and
aspirations for rational diplomacy and the rule of law, meant to
establish an international system with limits on great power ambitions.

There were political alternatives to this war, but we also should have
known what would happen. And it did happen. The pointless and degrading
bombing must stop and rational international negotiations must commence.
The alternative is incomprehensible. THE END

>From "The Democrat", May 1999

[Rollie Keith lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 
ROLAND KEITH is a 32-year career military officer in the Canadian
military.  He's a former director of the Kosovo Polje Field Office of
the Kosovo Verification Mission, from which position he returned in
April. He has spoken out against the war from the very beginning, and
has been part of the press conferences and public meetings organized by
the Ad Hoc Committee to Stop Canada's Participation in the War on