Peter Lippman

Thursday May 20, 1999

There has been a lot of news. It started with demonstrations in Serbia, in the towns of Krusevac and Aleksandrovac. For the past few days 2,000 or 3,000 mothers and sisters of men drafted to go fight in Kosovo have been demonstrating against the war. They are calling for their government to withdraw from Kosovo because they are tired of their men coming home in coffins. Apparently the KLA is actually having an effect down there.

The demonstrators threw rocks at the television station in Krusevac. They are mad at the media for lying to them and telling them that there have been no casualties. In Aleksandrovac they all but lynched the mayor. He came out to the demonstrators, who knocked him over and started kicking him. Civic action. The bodyguards couldn't save him. Finally some police extracted the mayor.

Next, people have started leaving the war zone in Kosovo. It doesn't exactly sound like desertions, but according to more than one source 2,000 men from Krusevac and Aleksandrovac have been sent home. BBC said that they were given permission to leave. Apparently men have been returning to some other cities as well.

The best explanation I have heard for this is that the Serbian government is creating a pressure-relief system to prevent wholesale desertion. Meanwhile they are still rounding up draft evaders elsewhere. In Montenegro apparently only around 15% of the people support Milosevic anymore. The Yugo army is at odds with the Montenegrin police. The army has been going around to people's houses in the middle of the night and dragging draft-age men off to Kosovo.

The paramilitary leader and notorious war criminal Arkan announced that if NATO sends ground troops to Kosovo, it will be a "living hell" for them. In the same announcement he asked the Russians to stop helping Serbia. He said they've been helping Serbia for 53 days now, and nothing has changed.

NATO bombed Dedinje yesterday, the neighborhood in Belgrade where Milosevic "has a house." Later, someone said, "Slobo, how come you're not home when we need you?" Along the way they hit a hospital in the same neighborhood. Three people were killed.

Gojko Beric, a columnist for the Bosnian paper Oslobodjenje, commented on the number of people around the world opposing the NATO intervention, and on the lack of an alternative plan. He said, "If they can solve this with hypnosis instead of force, that's good, but let's get on with it."

Friday, May 21

The Yugoslav army has taken over the border posts of Montenegro, which had been controlled by Montenegro. Today there were big demonstrations in the Montenegrin town of Cetinje. They carried signs, "Don't defend us from ourselves," and "We want to smell the flowers, not gunpowder." The Yugoslav army had Cetinje surrounded, with cannons pointed at the demonstrators. Meanwhile the new border guards were turning away much-needed humanitarian aid at the Montenegrin border with Croatia.

After the desertions from Kosovo a general visited Krusevo and tried to talk the soldiers into returning. He offered to give them "temporary on leave" status. They refused. Now they are drafting 50-year-olds. Many of the demonstrators from there and Aleksandrovac have been arrested and summarily given 30-day sentences for "destroying the public order."

Meanwhile NATO is using 240,000 barrels of oil a day to run their war planes, amounting to five per cent of the world's daily oil consumption.

Now there are around 70,000 Albanian refugees in Montenegro, 430,000 in Albania, and 250,000 in Macedonia. Around 20,000 in Bosnia, and an equal number of Sandzak Muslims here. 10,000 or 20,000 Serbians in the Bosnian Republika Srpska. People are coming through Bosnia and trying to go to third countries, and getting stuck here. They are being swindled by coyotes who take their money and dump them. One group was crammed into a truck and taken to the coast of Croatia at night and told to wait for a boat to Italy. When it became light the next morning they learned that they were on the shore of Lake Jablanica, a large lake in Bosnia. People are paying 500 to 2,000 Deutsche Marks to get out, and some are losing their life savings that way.

Inside Kosovo the more or less known figure of dead is 5,000 and missing is up to 225,000 now. The Serbian forces are continuing to use hostages, by the hundreds, as live shields. Many people are fleeing because of hunger as much as anything else. Fortunately for one family, it seems all of Lina's closer relatives except her grandfather are out of the country.

In February I wrote that we were about to turn a corner, because of the upcoming decision with Brcko and almost simultaneously the Rambouillet negotiations. It wasn't so hard to make that prediction and come out right. Now I feel something is going to happen again. In fact I'm sure of it, but not the timing. Ground troops won't happen for another couple of months, if at all. There's a lot of noise about a settlement. Rumors that the Serbian government is moving. Probably such a settlement would leave Kosovo in Serbia and some Serbian troops in Kosovo, and therefore hundreds of thousands of Albanians outside of Kosovo. In effect therefore, the whole "exercise" will have amounted to NATO helping the Serbian regime get rid of the Kosovars. I hope that's not the way it ends. The main negotiating at this point seems to be going on at high levels, over Belgrade's head, between Russia and the U.S. The U.S. wants Serbian troops out of Kosovo first, and Russia wants the NATO bombing to stop first. If I had to choose, I'd agree with the U.S.

The newspapers estimate that the damage to Serbia is somewhere between $100 and $200 billion.

Saturday, May 30

The bombing continues, and they say that most of Serbia is without electricity. Tudjman just suggested that the Serb forces withdraw to northern Kosovo and foreign troops administer the return of the refugees. This is the same as suggesting partition. I wouldn't expect anything else from Tudjman-it's in his blood. Meanwhile Macedonia is still talking about removing thousands of new refugees straight to Albania. The international community says that the number of those who have left Kosovo is now up to 900,000, i.e., half the total of Albanians. They say that even with an early settlement, it could take up to two years for them to return. Judging by the Bosnia experience, it could take forever.

Sunday, June 6

Milosevic was indicted for war crimes while we were at the conference. Also President of Serbia Milutinovic, Ojdanic the head of the army, and the police chief and the vice-president of Yugoslavia. It's a start. Eight years late. It's too bad it came down as part of the prosecution of the war rather than as a sincere political move to expose what those people do.

Milutinovic was the one who had my Pristina jail term shortened from ten days to four. When he gets sentenced by The Hague to 20 years or so, I will make sure to lobby for a reduction of his sentence by six days.

After the indictment there was an attack on an SFOR-inhabited house in Zvornik in the RS, east of Tuzla. Someone fired 11 "projectiles" at the office. Fortunately no one was hurt. One of the international officials said that the people of Zvornik "should be ashamed of themselves."

Mon. June 14

The Serbian troops started pulling out of Kosovo last Friday, and NATO troops started entering from Macedonia the next day. Now they say there are already 14,000 NATO troops on the ground, and the full force is supposed to be around 50,000. That number is supposed to include 2,000 Russians and between 7,000 and 10,000 Americans.

Somehow the Russians got the jump on NATO and 200 of them entered Kosovo before anyone else, and took over the airport. Rumor has it they came from Bosnia through Serbia. The Russian foreign minister acted surprised to hear this. Now the Russians won't let anyone else near the airport. They're asserting themselves on behalf of the Serbs, and it also looks good back home. Yeltsin, after getting over his surprise, started taking credit. But he and Clinton have been holding 1-hour love-talks on the hotline.

Part of the problem is that Russia doesn't want to participate in the occupation under the command of NATO. What they really want is to control a sector of Kosovo as if it were Berlin. But they aren't being allowed to do this. It looks like they're fishing around for a way to snatch some kind of victory for the Serbs, but they'll probably only get a symbolic one - the airport.

The whole Serb retreat-NATO entry has a lot of room for messiness and bloodiness. Some wayward suicidal Serbs have already attacked NATO troops and gotten themselves killed for their troubles. Some others were attacked by KLA troops. Some others have killed Albanians and booby-trapped houses on their way out. NATO troops are finding mass graves now, in Kacanik and Velika Krusa, and there will be more.

Serb civilians are clearing out, too. With their furniture, and sometimes with some they stole from the Albanians, 10,000 have already left. Meanwhile, Albanians are coming out of the woodwork - literally, people who have been afraid to come out of their hiding places for two months are now out there throwing flowers at the new American, German, Italian, and British occupiers.

What happens in the mid-term future is up in the air. The KLA is supposed to be "de-militarized" (not disarmed), and the provisional prime minister Hashim Thaci has agreed to this. The political factionalization of the Albanians has intensified, with Thaci and Rugova barely talking to each other.

Milosevic made a "surprise speech" and proclaimed victory for Yugoslavia, whose army he termed the "best army in the world." He said it was a victory for the Serbs because the international troops in Kosovo are going to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of Yugoslavia. It's true that the discussion of the future status of Kosovo is more up in the air than it would have been under the Rambouillet treaty, but then that treaty allowed for 10,000 or 15,000 Serb troops to stay in Kosovo. Under the present agreement all Serb troops have to leave, and then a few hundred can come back and guard their shrines. And I don't see Kosovo ever really being a part of Serbia anymore. That's what those billions of dollars worth of bombs bought.

How much longer Milosevic will last is another good question. The Serbs have not turned into democrats all of a sudden, but the finger-pointing has started, and it's not all towards the West. The Orthodox Church has called for him to resign. I think people are waiting to lunge, although there could be a delayed reaction. Among other things there are going to be a lot of parents of dead Serb soldiers asking why. Milosevic said that there were 466 soldiers killed, but other figures going around put the number between 5,000 and 10,000, including one big massacre last week while the Serb negotiators were stalling. (Is it still called a massacre when "we" do it?)

I called to talk to Jahja in Skopje and got his brother Hashim who had escaped from Pec in April, and waited at the border with Macedonia for a long time, then got to Skopje. He was one of the lucky ones. Their father was left behind. Hashim told me that they finally managed to get him out somehow, two weeks ago. Another brother, Kasim (Lina's father), is still in Tirana, "living under difficult circumstances."

Hashim got permission for his family to move to the United States. Now Hashim tells me that he might not go, that he might go home instead. He said, "I'm almost 50, I'm old for making a big move like that." He asked me what he should do. He also said that he thinks in a couple of weeks things may be stable enough to go home, if there's any left. But on the radio tonight I heard that people are already moving back over the Macedonia border by the hundreds, and that NATO is worried about the danger of mines and such. Even the KLA is telling people to wait.

In today's paper there was a report that when Chernomyrdin and Ahtisari went to Belgrade to twist Milosevic's arm, they cleared off a table and said, "Belgrade's going to be as flat as this table if you don't sign. There will be a half million dead in a week." I read that, but I don't believe it.

And Seselj and his Radical Party resigned from the Serbian Parliament today. Seselj was saying that was a war they didn't have to lose. He was also complaining about not being indicted by The Hague. Everyone around here just says he and Milosevic are crazy, but it's not that simple.

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