Is premature for the United States to signal its departure from Kosova.
New York, January 1, 2011 NOA/ Luan Mazreku – Albanian American Civic League President Joe DioGuardi,Balkan Affairs Adviser Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, and some members of the ExecutiveCommittee of the AACL’s Board of Directors met with Congressman Buck McKeon (R-CA) in Manhattan. The purpose of the meeting was to brief Congressman McKeon, whois the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives,about the escalating conflict in northern Kosova and the need to resolve the conflictbefore the projected departure of US troops from Camp Bondsteel occurs.
The following presentation was made by Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi on behalf of the CivicLeague in support of maintaining US leadership at Camp Bondsteel:
We are all aware of the fact that cuts will be made in the defense budget and that this willinclude the closing of some of America’s military bases at home and abroad. For thepast year, it has been rumored that Camp Bondsteel, which was built in Kosova by theUnited States after NATO airstrikes against Serbia ended the Kosova war in June 1999,will be put under Turkish command. Since Turkey is a strong ally of Kosova, in theoryremoving US troops from Camp Bondsteel would make sense. However, in practice, Iwould argue that it is premature for the United States to signal its departure from Kosova, since it is the only real impediment to Serbia’s expansionist aims.
By way of background, at the end of the Kosova war, Belgrade created and financedparallel political and economic structures in northern Kosova run by Kosova Serbs. Withonly lip service opposition from the West, Belgrade has been able to destabilize Kosova,and with it, the region for more than a decade. Belgrade has been able to have the upperhand in the north because only 85 nations have recognized Kosova’s independence(the US was the first) since it declared its independence in February 2008. Serbiahas repeatedly said that it intends to make the de facto partition of northern Kosova apermanent, de jure reality, and this is coming closer to fruition, to a great extent becauseof inaction on the part of the Obama administration. The Obama administration haschosen to take a back seat to Europe when it comes to Kosova and the Balkans. While onthe surface this would appear to be a logical decision since America is mired in the warin Afghanistan, it is nevertheless a mistake. As Congress knows well, whenever Americahas taken a back seat to Europe in the Balkans, the United States has ultimately paid theprice in “blood and treasure.”
The crisis in the north escalated on November 23, 2011, when Kosova Serbs battled NATO troops (known as KFOR), seriously injuring 21, in their effort to maintainbarricades that they had first erected in September to block Kosova customs officialsfrom going to the border between Kosova and Serbia. Four NATO troops and sixteenSerb civilians were injured and one Albanian police officer and one Serb were killedin earlier clashes. The Kosova customs officials, aided by EU representatives, havebeen trying to remove the barricades and travel to the border in order to implement apreliminary customs agreement that was cosigned by the negotiators in the Prishtina-Belgrade talks, which began last spring in Brussels and are being facilitated by theEuropean Union. However, the Belgrade-backed extremists in the north refuse torecognize Kosova’s independence and want to prevent the Kosova government fromextending its authority throughout the entire territory.
As a recent International Crisis Group report rightly stated, the conflict in the north “notonly pits northern Serbs against Kosova and Kosova against Serbia, but also Serbiaagainst the European Union.” This is why the Albanian American Civic League, whichis a volunteer advocacy group representing the concerns of 750,000 Albanian Americans,believes that the United States should delay its departure from Camp Bondsteel until theconflict in the north has been resolved.
Fortunately, the dynamics shifted on December 9, when German Prime Minister AngelaMerkel successfully prevented the EU from awarding Serbia EU candidate status thismonth. Serbia has been told that by March it must demonstrate that it has dismantled thebarricades in northern Kosova and allowed freedom of movement for KFOR troops andEU and Kosova officials. Merkel already signaled a new, promising shift in the EU’sunbroken support for Belgrade, when she met with Serbian President Boris Tadic inBelgrade last August and told him that if Serbia wanted to achieve EU candidate status, ithad to achieve results in the dialogue with Kosova, abolish all illegal, parallel structuresin northern Kosova, and eventually recognize Kosova’s sovereignty without divisionduring Serbia’s EU integration. Even though Serbia wanted to achieve EU candidatestatus by the end of 2011, Tadic responded to Merkel’s demands by saying that Serbiawould not concede to the EU on Kosova. Now he is clearly faced with a choice betweenEU acceptance and holding onto Kosova.
Tadic is more than likely to try to hold onto the north, and this will put Kosova andSoutheast Europe in danger of renewed violence. By refocusing American diplomaticand military attention on Kosova and the Balkans now, we can prevent a costly andpotentially deadly conflict in the months ahead.