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Kosovo endgame

'Non-existent' plans for ground troops drop from shelf

Over last weekend, Vjosa Dobruna, a Kosovan pediatrician who recently arrived here, told me of her ardent hope to return home. I asked, "Even if Milosevic is still in power?" She paused for several seconds and whispered, "No."

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That symbolizes the painful reality that faces the NATO planners, meeting today for deliberations on Kosovo that have come to overshadow the alliance's 50th anniversary celebration. Just reaffirming their unity in pressing forward with the air campaign against Yugoslavia will not be enough.

They must begin to project plans for the return of the exiled Kosovars and the reconstruction of their devastated homeland. But, as Dr. Donruna suggested, for many Kosovars there is no going back to being under the heel of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

President Clinton, before newspaper editors in San Francisco last week, said the goal for Kosovo shouldn't be "independence, but interdependence," and he opposed "the endless rejiggering of borders."

But the prospect for restoring multi-ethnic accommodation looks bleak.

Inevitably, the idea of "partition" arises. Partition has been advocated in the last several days in a Chicago Tribune editorial, in scholarly articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times, by one or two members of Congress, and by the presidential candidate, Patrick Buchanan. The general idea is to give Serbia a slice of Kosovo in the northeast and fashion the rest into an independent state, perhaps to join Albania. There is a nostalgic whiff of Wilsonian self-determination in contemplating the redrawing of Balkan maps.

In Yugoslavia, Tito's federation broke up in 1991 into five ethnically diverse republics. The further breakup of Bosnia-Herzegovina was averted by the Dayton accords. Bosnia, however, is effectively divided into three ethnic parts. The central government wields little power and it might not survive the departure of NATO peacekeeping troops.

In Kosovo, Mr. Milosevic has made human beings into missiles, discharged into neighboring Albania, Macedonia, and Montenegro to destabilize them. Under the circumstances, any move toward partition would almost certainly raise territorial claims among Kosovo's neighbors.

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When Mr. Clinton opposes partition, it is because he knows that it may lead to more instability than stability. But in the absence of any other visible solution, it has the virtue of sounding like you're not just standing there, you're doing something.

But, whatever the endgame, how do we reach it? In announcing the start of the air war on March 24, Clinton stated in the most emphatic terms that there would be no ground troops. That was both a gratuitous gift to Mr. Milosevic and a misreading of what Americans would accept. They looked at the frightful scenes of expellees on Kosovo's border and heard about the atrocities being committed in Kosovo, and opinion polls registered their increasing readiness to support whatever it would take to win.

So plans for deploying ground troops, said to have been nonexistent, suddenly dropped from the shelf where they had reposed since last October, ready to be updated - just in case. And Milosevic, now busy planting land mines, has learned what Americans have long known - you can't believe everything our president says.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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