Rambouillet and Aftermath: The Hard Sell

Kosovo Albanians didn't get independence, NATO troops or peace. Fresh political splits have emerged, and fears of new bloodshed is high. But the returning delegates laid out a strong case that one more conference will bring results.

Rambouillet and Aftermath: The Hard Sell

Kosovo Albanians didn't get independence, NATO troops or peace. Fresh political splits have emerged, and fears of new bloodshed is high. But the returning delegates laid out a strong case that one more conference will bring results.

The Kosovo Albanian negotiating team arrived in Pristina in a celebratory mood. The delegation did not return with the three things it had promised: a referendum on independence, the deployment of NATO troops, or peace. Nevertheless, one member of the delegation guaranteed that "the three things that people are asking for will be present in our homeland after [the follow-up conference], March 15."

Yet throughout the talks in Rambouillet, everyone from Kosovo had been aware that the killings, as reported by both sides, continued. Even OSCE verifiers were caught in the fray. During the opening of the regional office in Leposavic, verifiers were attacked by some 150 Serbs. In Urosevac, they were prevented from following Yugoslav Army units, which is part of their regular patrolling. Meantime, Serb authorities reported instances of sniper-fire from the KLA.

Reports of serious divisions within the Albanian negotiating team - and within the KLA itself - raised questions about the unity of the Albanians. This was underscored by the members' different means of arrival. While Hashim Thaci, the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) commander who headed the delegation, was making a separate way back from Rambouillet, the rest of the delegation returned via a French military plane. Embarking at the Pristina airport, three representatives of the KLA jumped into a large orange armoured vehicle from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and drove towards Drenica. The other members had to pass as usual through Yugoslav customs. Nevertheless, delegates stressed the importance of Rambouillet in at least bringing together for the first time Albanian politicians who have been divided for years.

Days before the start of the talks in Rambouillet, Adem Demaci, the KLA's general political representative, declared his opposition to the negotiations, and urged KLA soldiers to oppose them. Since then he has not spoken publicly, avoiding even his own regular press conferences. Underscoring an apparent division between the KLA representatives who travelled to Rambouillet and those soldiers and supporters remaining in the field, in the midst of the talks the KLA announced the appointment of Sylejman ("Sultani") Selimi, 29, a top fighter, as its general commander. The implication was that the KLA was preparing to fight regardless of the decisions in France.

In an effort to heal these divisions, a new (shadow) government was announced by the Kosovo Albanians, to be led by the KLA. This sudden move followed a year of unsuccessful efforts to form a new Albanian administration within Kosovo. The written statement detailing the new government was signed by the three main political strands in Kosovo, the KLA, Ibrahim Rugova's Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), and the United Democratic Movement (or LBD, an anti-Rugova opposition umbrella grouping).

Yet only hours later, Demaci scorned the move as "an initiative of failed people in failed talks," and declared the new administration illegitimate. Veton Surroi, the publisher and an independent member of the delegation, shot back: "Adem Demaci had an opportunity to be in Rambouillet. The decisions [by the delegation] were made with consensus, and this has to fully be respected." Surroi argued that Demaci's criticisms were only an individual viewpoint, and did not have "any institutional importance."

As for independence, the 85-page draft agreement which the Albanians have accepted in principal does not explicitly accept a referendum. Yet Surroi argued that the international mediators "said that they will respect the will of the people. That means nothing more and nothing less than a referendum." Jakup Krasniqi, a KLA representative at the talks, said in a speech in Drenica upon arrival that they had never had "illusions that they would bring back independence from Rambouillet... It is up to us how we will work on next three years. It's up to our unity if we want to go towards gaining independence for Kosova."

While Rambouillet called on both sides to observe a cease-fire, Yugoslav forces were gathering on the northern border of Kosovo, and the KLA surrounded two Serb villages in Suva Reka. "We won't attack them for now, but if there is any attack against Albanians elsewhere in Kosovo, we are ready to enter these villages," a KLA fighter said. Indeed, international observers expected the worst during the two week's vacuum between Rambouillet and the next conference. William Walker, head of OSCE mission, said that if there is no agreement for Kosovo soon, "another massacre is likely." Many analysts noted that that the biggest hostilities in Bosnia coincided with peace conferences.

Gjeraqina Tuhina is a Pristina-based journalist with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

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