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Holbrooke: US Task Not Over in Balkans - 2002-02-27


Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday Western involvement in the Balkans has improved the lives of people there, but outside help in the region must continue. He spoke at Washington's School of Advanced International Studies.

Six and a half years after Dayton and nearly three years after Nato's intervention in support of the Kosovar Albanians, Mr. Holbrooke says the situation in the former Yugoslavia is greatly improved. Now working in investment banking in New York, Mr. Holbrooke appealed to the Bush administration to remain engaged in the Balkans.

"If we stick to it," he said. "If we finish the job. If we don't pull out - as has been suggested repeatedly by some members of the current administration - then this [U.S. engagement in the Balkans since 1995] will be a huge success story.

Mr. Holbrooke says it is clear now that there were two errors in the Dayton agreement that ended the war in Bosnia. It did not require that Bosnia's three rival ethnically based armies be combined into one, and it did not give enough power to the central government in Sarajevo.

Turning to Kosovo, Mr. Holbrooke indicated Nato peacekeepers may be needed there until the ethnic Albanian majority and the Serbs [in Belgrade] can agree on the future of the disputed Serbian province. He says only the United States can bring the two parties together.

"There's no rush on this," said Mr. Holbrooke. "I would not recommend that this be undertaken now for several reasons. I think Kosovo itself is having a political problem. [Ibrahim] Rugova [ethnic Albanian political leader] has been unable to get to where he should get because the other groups in the new parliament in Kosovo are blocking him. And the situation in Serbia hasn't reached fruition yet in terms of the full development of democracy."

Mr. Holbrooke is supportive of the U.S.-brokered peace agreement in Macedonia that, he says, pulled the ethnic Albanians and Macedonians back from the brink of war. Mr. Holbrooke cautions that it would be a mistake to create a larger ethnically based Albanian state.

"If your question implies that the Albanians should have a greater Albania, I would respectfully suggest that it will create absolute chaos," said Mr. Holbrooke. "It will shatter Macedonia. The Kosovo Albanians are rather pleased not to be part of Albania because they're at a much higher level. And there are Albanians all over Montenegro and lapping into Croatia and everything."

On Serbia and Montenegro, Mr. Holbrooke says the current Yugoslavia is a terrible structure in which the Serbs themselves are losers.

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