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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Statement at the Contact Group Ministerial on Kosovo
London, United Kingdom, March 9, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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Let me begin by thanking Foreign Secretary Cook for hosting this session of the Contact Group on Kosovo. I am very pleased to join you with my colleagues from Germany, France, Italy and Russia.

The situation in Kosovo is dire today. There is no dialogue. President Milosevic has run away from his promises to us and to the Albanian population. Instead, Serbian security forces have launched a campaign of indiscriminate violence that has claimed the lives of many innocent people.

Once again, President Milosevic is playing with fire. Once again, he has tried to solve his problems not with the force of argument, but with the argument of brute force.

When the war in the former Yugoslavia began in 1991, the international community did not react with sufficient vigor and force. Each small act of aggression that we did not oppose led to larger acts of aggression that we could not oppose without great risk to ourselves. Only when those responsible paid for their actions with isolation and hardship did the war end.

It took us seven years to bring Bosnia to this moment of hope. It must not take us that long to resolve the crisis that is growing in Kosovo; and it does not have to if we apply the lessons of 1991. This time, we must act with unity and resolve. This time, we must respond before it is too late.

We must first acknowledge that this crisis is not an internal affair of the FRY. The violence is an affront to universal standards of human rights we are pledged to uphold. It represents precisely the sort of conduct that sparked the war in the former Yugoslavia. It is divide and rule all over again, with thugs in uniform targeting not just individuals, but whole families, clans and communities in order to sow widespread fear.

It is President Milosevic who is responsible for internationalizing this crisis -- not we. The time to stop it is now, before it spreads. Otherwise, we will have to accept responsibility for the consequences to the region, to Europe, and to the values we share.

Second, we must avoid being paralyzed by the kind of artificial even-handedness that equates aggressors with their victims. We need to say clearly what is so clearly true: that responsibility for the violence lies squarely with Belgrade.

The authorities in Serbia will try to blur the picture by claiming their actions are a legitimate response to a terrorist threat. We do not deny that they face such a threat. We have no sympathy for a so called liberation movement that judges, tries and executes the ethnic Serbs and Albanians it does not like.

But we expect governments to live up to higher standards than terrorist groups. And no provocation can possibly excuse the Serbian authorities' conduct in Kosovo. In recent days, we have received credible reports that security forces have mortared villages, burned houses, conducted extrajudicial executions, and killed pregnant women and elderly people who could not possibly have been a threat to them. Belgrade has incriminated itself further by keeping independent observers out of the region; it has even denied access to the International Red Cross.

President Milosevic would like us to accept his government as legitimate. But legitimate governments solve internal political problems with dialogue and the rule of law, not with artillery.

The only effective way to deal with this kind of violence is through action, not rhetoric -- that is the most important lesson of 1991. Moral condemnation and symbolic gestures of concern alone will get us nowhere. More warnings will be meaningless: President Milosevic has already done what we have warned him not to do. Diplomatic visits to the region will also fail unless we demonstrate to President Milosevic that he is losing more than he is gaining by continuing his present course of action.

We need to remember that before the recent crackdown, the United States and others began to ease international pressure against Serbia. By his conduct, President Milosevic has spurned our incentives. And he has shown us that the outer wall of sanctions is not sufficient. We need additional leverage.

The United States has already taken steps to ensure that those who are responsible for the violence pay a price. I urge all the members of the Contact Group to join us in adopting effective new measures to push Milosevic in the right direction, by denying him the resources he needs to keep his police state running. We need to implement them now because President Milosevic is testing us now; if we hesitate and delay that will only send a message that we are not serious.

Let me stress that the purpose of these measures should not be to return Kosovo to the status quo of last month or last year. Stopping the killing is not enough; too much damage has already been done. If the FRY wishes to ease its isolation, it must show that it is ready to shift from repression to a search for a genuine political solution.

Belgrade must enter into a real dialogue on an enhanced status for Kosovo. It must allow international observers full access to Kosovo, permit the ICRC and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the reports of wanton killings, and, if they are proven true, it must punish those responsible. It should accept a new OSCE mission by Felipe Gonzalez, with a specific mandate for Kosovo. It must cooperate with Sant'Egidio and reach a fair deal with the Kosovar Albanians on implementation of the Education Agreement. We should also insist that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia start gathering facts now, before the situation worsens. And we should establish a consortium of governments and NGOs to coordinate the distribution of humanitarian aid in Kosovo, and help to build civil society.

Our experience in the region teaches us that the problems of Kosovo will not be easily solved. But our experience also teaches us that we can succeed and must try. The people of Kosovo are watching to see what we will do; they would like to believe there is an alternative to desperate acts of lonely vengeance. Let us act with determination and with speed to give hope to those in Kosovo, including Dr. Rugova, who support a non-violent solution. Let us show them that with the world's help, such a solution will be possible.

[End of Document]

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