Covering up NATO’s Balkan Bombing Blunder

Av Jan Oberg

TFF PressInfo 61 – April 14, 1999

Originally published here.

Serbo-Croatian version here.


“Western leaders are busy re-writing history to justify their Balkan bombing blunder. The change in information, rhetoric and explanations since the bombings started on March 24 is literally mind-boggling. Most likely they fear they have opened a very dark chapter in history and may be losing the plot.

One way to make failure look like success is to construct a powerful media reality and de-construct real reality. That’s the essence of media warfare and that’s what happens now,” says TFF director Jan Oberg.

“For instance, you must have noticed that the The Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA or UCK, which existed some weeks ago and allegedly participated in Rambouillet now suddenly never existed. The 13-months war in Kosovo/a also conveniently has been expurgated.

The last few days President Clinton, prime minister Blair, NATO General Wesley Clark, foreign secretary Cook, foreign minister Fischer, secretary Albright, defence minister Robertson and other Western leaders have explained to the world why NATO bombs Yugoslavia. They made no mention of KLA or the war. Their speeches are surprisingly uniform. Their main points are:

• We have evidence that Yugoslavia, i.e.President Milosevic had a plan to ethnically cleanse Kosovo/a of all Albanians.

• One proof of this plan is that some 700.000 have been driven over the borders; it would have been many more, if not all 2 million Albanians, had NATO not taken action.

• Milosevic deployed 40.000 troops and 300 tanks in the region even while his delegation was in Paris.

• ‘We have reports’ and ‘there are stories’ about mass graves, rapes, and endless atrocities. We have no hard evidence, but that’s what refugees consistently tell.

• Milosevic is now ‘a cruel dictator’ and ‘a serial ethnic cleanser.’

• Innocent civilians are driven away ‘only because of who they are and not because of anything they have done,’ as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair express it.

• Milosevic has not been in compliance with the agreement he signed with ambassador Holbrooke in October last year.

Why is this not credible, why is this probably a ‘narrative’ made to influence emotions, perceptions, enemy images, and ultimately the behaviour of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals?

Let me give you a few facts from my own visits and repeated meetings over the years with the civilian Kosovar Albanian leadership, the opposition and independent intellectuals in Pristina,” says Oberg. “Dr. Ibrahim Rugova repeatedly told me, as he did everyone from the West who cared to listen, that he feared he could not keep the Albanian people behind his pragmatic nonviolent strategy if the West did not ‘do something’ such as persuade Belgrade to participate in talks mediated by the international community.

Years ago I met Kosovar Albanians who were very critical of Dr. Rugova’s ‘passive’ leadership and advocated guerrilla struggle as the only way out, sooner or later. In 1996 I was told by well-informed Albanian intellectuals that they would not rule out that there existed an armed fraction. Last year advisers to Dr. Rugova told me that they had heard about the liberation army as early as 1993.

For years, I would say, Kosovo has been a police state. The only response Belgrade had to the legitimate Albanian grievances was to step up police repression. I have no doubts about the fact that there were gross, systematic violations of political, economic, cultural and other human rights. The Albanians feared Belgrade – which insisted that it was an internal problem but never took steps to find a solution.

At the same time, the Albanian leaders ‘needed’ the repression to mobilize international support for their project of an independent Kosova. Thus, they refused to deal with moderate, dialogue-inclined leaders such as prime minister Milan Panic and his excellent ministers in 1993.

Be this as it may, the truth is that there was no war, no mass killings, no systematic ethnic cleansing, no genocide. Many Albanians left because of the repression but also because of the misery, the utter poverty and lack of future opportunities for themselves and their children. Serbs, too, left for such reasons and not – as they sometimes claim – because they were victims of an Albanian genocide plan.

The conflict that was said to have started in 1989 erupted into war in February 1998 when KLA surfaced. It can not be denied that KLA activity changed the situation from repression to war. The most surprising is a) that the West turned a blind eye to Albania’s role as a training ground and base for KLA, b) that, in its consequences, Albanian policies amounted to de facto aggression against Yugoslavia, c) that KLA was armed by predominantly Western sources in contravention of the United Nation Security Council’s embargo on any arms imports into the territories of former Yugoslavia, d) that nobody thought of closing the border to prevent spilling-in of soldiers, weapons and ammunition and the spilling-over of Yugoslav reprisals and e) that Yugoslav armed forces, by and large, let these incursions happen for months without taking action against them.

US envoy Robert Gelbard said on February 23, 1998 that he was “deeply disturbed by the UCK” and that it was “undoubtedly a terrorist organization.” One week later the Yugoslav offensive against it began. So much for the present Western cover-up which seek to make us forget the pivotal role of KLA in this crisis.

Next, what about the argument that Milosevic did not keep his promise to Holbrooke of October last year? It would be a good point if that was not a one-sided agreement. While there were two forces fighting fiercely in Kosovo – various Yugoslav/Serb police and military forces on the one side and KLA on the other – the agreement was signed only by Milosevic. KLA declared a cease fire on their side, but never signed any document. One-party cease fires are as unique as they are untenable.

We were told and saw pictures of a war that had raged in the province for 13 months. Albanians intellectuals and editors I talked with during visits to Pristina in autumn 1998 told me proudly when asked who the KLA was that ‘that’s everyone of us, we are a people in arms.’ Sheltered by the Holbrooke-Milosevic deal, KLA seized 30% of the province’s territory. Radical Albanians gave visitors the crystal clear impression that victory was around the corner. That is, until Belgrade had had enough.

During those 13 months, around 2000 people were killed and 250.000 people displaced – about 10% of the province’s Albanians and 10% of its Serbian citizens – but few of them, fortunately, fled outside Kosovo. Two weeks after NATO action began, suddenly 750.000 had run over the borders and NOW we are told that there were only innocent civilian Albanians in Kosovo who, as President Clinton stated it on April 12, are driven away ONLY because of who they are and not because of anything they have done.

It seems more probable to me that people run away for three reasons, not one: a) because of ethnic cleansing by Serb/Yugoslavs who feel that the ongoing destruction of Yugoslavia is the result of Albanian policy, b) because of the war between Yugoslav and KLA forces, and c) because of NATO’s bombs which repeatedly also happens to hit civilian targets.

Was there a plan to cleanse the area? No one who maintains it has shown any hard evidence. Before March 24 this year no politician had told us about Milosevic’ alleged plan. No humanitarian organizations had warned about a major, systematic campaign to drive out 1-2 million people. If OSCE with 1500 verifiers knew about such a plan – and they listened in on Yugoslav communication – why did it not alert the world? If Belgrade wanted to get rid of all Kosovo-Albanians, it could have done so at any time since 1991. It never touched any Albanian leader or tried to prevent the building of their parallel state. Why did NATO threaten to bomb Yugoslavia if it would not sign the Rambouillet document but said nothing about bombing it because of the existence of such a plan?

Are 40.000 troops and 300 tanks indicative of such a plan? Hardly. Troops and tanks are not the prime tools to make people run away. They were deployed in the province when NATO deceived Yugoslavia. You see, Holbrooke probably forgot to tell Milosevic that NATO would deploy an ‘extraction force’ in Macedonia. Its task was to protect the ‘extraction’ from Kosovo of the unarmed OSCE verifiers in the event of NATO bombings – an activity that could lead to them being taken hostage by the Serbs. So, NATO’s bomb threat was real from October. Would your country do nothing if threatened for months with bombings by history’s most powerful military alliance?

With the OSCE verifiers peacefully out, NATO did not withdraw the force but had already begun to increase it from 3.000 to 12.000 (and forgot to consult the Macedonian parliament). Yugoslavia had very legitimate reasons to see this as an extremely unfriendly “signal” and moved troops down to the Macedonian border to “signal” its determination to fight that force, should it cross the border into Kosovo. KLA was sucked in by the presence of the Yugoslav units and fighting intensified in an area where no fighting had taken place before. All this BECAUSE of NATO’s policies.

What is now called evidence of a grand design for ethnic cleansing by Western leaders was nothing but the response to NATO’s remarkably unwise, clumsy and adventurous attempt to force Macedonia into the role of an ally and major NATO base. It was a perfectly natural response to NATO’s repeated threat of a massive air campaign. It – predictably – resulted in an almost complete political destabilization of the Macedonian government and a socio-economic destabilization because of the NATO-provoked refugee flows.

Finally, Milosevic is a ‘cruel dictator’? Well, if so why has the West helped him be central, relied on his signature in Dayton and never extended any help to the opposition in Belgrade – not even when 1,5 million people demonstrated against him a couple of years ago? Why has ambassador Holbrooke and scores of Western diplomats had ‘interesting’ talks with him? Why did the West hope for a last-minute concession from him to avoid the bombing it threatened? What do we do with ‘cruel dictators’ who are elected by citizens many of whom would certainly call him authoritarian or see his policies a catastrophic but who never saw him as a cruel dictator? And why does NATO repeat the mistake from Iraq – to bomb a country only to see its people unite completely behind their leader?

In summary, NOT ONE OF NATO’s PRESENT ARGUMENTS HOLD WATER. They contradict facts, they contradict what Western leaders themselves told us yesterday. What we witness is a pitiful attempt at “perception management” and media war against public opinion.

We should get suspicious,” concludes Jan Oberg, “when Western civilian and military top leaders within days seek to rewrite and falsify history, omit well-documented facts and central actors, change the sequence of events and forget what they stated and did only a couple of weeks ago. It’s particularly disturbing if you see a systematic bias or tendency in those changes. And it bodes ill, indeed, when the majority of journalists ask only politically correct questions to State Department and NATO spin doctors and spokespersons at a time that could well turn out to be a defining moment of history.”

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