THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 30, 1999
As Prepared for Delivery
REMARKS BY SAMUEL R. BERGER
ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL SECURITY AFFAIRS
ON THE CHALLENGES IN KOSOVO
The U.S. Institute of Peace
September 30, 1999
Thank you, very much, Dick Solomon. I am grateful to you and to the U.S. Institute of Peace for having me here today. Please forgive me if I was a few minutes late. I was trying to leave for the speech, but members of my staff only wanted to talk about which actor played them in last night's episode of "The West Wing." No one played me, apparently, despite the fact that, as I understand it, the episode involved a foreign terrorist act. Maybe that's just as well, considering how Hollywood has presented national security advisers recently: A stuffed shirt in "The Peacemaker." An egomaniac killed off in "Air Force One." A self-promoter in "Contact." A zealot in "Murder at 1600." I can't imagine who the model was for these characters, but let me stress that each of these movies was in process before I assumed this job.
Let me congratulate the Institute on your 15th anniversary and for all the valuable work you have done to strengthen peace around the world. Just a few weeks ago, you hosted a remarkable discussion, bringing together a diverse group of Kosovar Albanian leaders, skillfully assisting as they fashioned a declaration of principles for a democratic society.
Today I want to talk to you about the effort to build peace in Kosovo, how we're doing, and why. Kosovo is mostly out of the headlines now -- but it must not be out of our thoughts.
On the morning of June 10th, President Clinton received word that Serb forces had begun their withdrawal from Kosovo. Soon after, he announced that NATO had suspended the air campaign against Serbia. He thanked our troops for their skill and bravery. He expressed pride that we had achieved our goals -- Serb forces out, a NATO-led force in, refugees to return -- and that we did so in a way that advanced other important national interests: maintaining NATO unity; preventing the collapse of new democracies in southeast Europe; keeping Russia engaged in reaching peace. But the President made clear that it was not time to rest. "We have a moment of hope," he said. "Now ... we have to finish the job and build the peace."
As the President recognized, it is no simple task to create security from the ashes of violent tyranny ... to build self-government where for so long there had been repression ... to foster tolerance after unspeakable intolerance. And we have seen all of those obstacles since the end of the conflict. Some ethnic Albanians, still burning with anger over the atrocities committed by Serb forces, have engaged in deplorable acts of violence, such as the grenade attack two days ago at an outdoor market crowded with Serbs. Many Serbs have fled Kosovo, some with exiting Serb forces and others since. There have been some armed confrontations between Kosovars and KFOR, the international security force. And the effort to transform the Kosovo Liberation Army into a positive component of a new democratic society has been painstaking.
But, in the face of these challenges, we already have come a great distance. Kosovo now is engaged in a struggle of rebirth, no longer a struggle with death. The people have a future again. We have an opportunity to move from success on the battlefield to lasting victory in meeting the goals for which we fought, in Kosovo and in southeast Europe as a whole.
Having won the war, we must not now lose the peace. Protecting our national interests requires us not only to act in a crisis, but to take advantage of the opportunity our military success created to prevent future crises. Victory will not come until Kosovo and southeast Europe are so tightly integrated into the rest of Europe that another war is inconceivable.
Let me try to capture the dimensions of this challenge by briefly describing Kosovo's troubled past. Keep in mind that no living resident of Kosovo has ever seen genuine democracy or broad prosperity in the province. In this century, Kosovo has been dominated by one repressive regime after another, and a mainly agricultural economy has done little to lift people from poverty. Kosovo has experienced extended periods of peace in modern times, but there has been no tradition of strong integration among Kosovo's ethnic groups -- at best, there was uneasy coexistence.
Conditions greatly worsened a decade ago, when Milosevic stripped Kosovo of its autonomy; stripped the Kosovar Albanians of their jobs; stripped their children of the right to study in their own language. Then, in early 1998, after a decade of non-violent resistance to Serb oppression gave way to the KLA's armed resistance, Serb forces sharply intensified their violence, murdering civilians, driving Kosovars from their homes. Finally, early this year, as we and the Europeans struggled to obtain peace, Belgrade systematically planned for all-out war -- and then launched its campaign to rid the land of its ethnic Albanians, dead or alive.
The Kosovo that existed before KFOR troops arrived on June 12 was a living nightmare -- the debris, living and dead, of a crime against humanity. Having ended this nightmare, we have been working every day since to meet the clear goals of the international community for the future:
First, a fully deployed KFOR must establish a secure environment across the province.
Second, all of the Kosovo residents displaced by the conflict who wish to return should be able to do so, including, over time, the ethnic Serbs who have left.
Third, there must be sufficient humanitarian aid to sustain the people and help them rebuild their homes and resume productive lives.
Fourth, the United Nations must establish an effective civil administration to carry out government functions for a transition period.
Fifth, we must aid the people of Kosovo in establishing self-government and building a democratic society where the rights of minority group members are protected.
Finally, Kosovo's ultimate status must be decided peacefully, with the participation of its people.
How is it going? There are problems, but a little over 100 days into this effort, there has been considerably more progress than most Americans realize.
KFOR is fully deployed, with some 41,000 troops from more than 20 countries. There have been occasional confrontations between its troops and Kosovo residents, but security has significantly improved and KFOR has the cooperation and respect of the great majority of Kosovo's people. Russian troops have played a constructive role, helping to keep the peace, standing up to violence, including from Serbs, maintaining impartiality.
KFOR's success in creating stability has allowed the return of over 800,000 Kosovar Albanian refugees -- more than 8 in 10 -- and allowed hundreds of thousands more who had been hiding in Kosovo's hills to come home to their villages. But they have returned to a shattered land. They have had to face the agony of loved ones lost. Many found their homes and businesses destroyed, their wells polluted, their schools and hospitals razed by Milosevic's attacks.
The UN and relief agencies are working with the people of Kosovo to rebuild homes. Some 50,000 houses are beyond repair, another 50,000 severely damaged. The strategy now underway will give each family at least one warm, dry room through the spring. The UN is also revitalizing Kosovo's energy sector, so residents will be ensured electricity and heat this winter.
Rehabilitation of hospitals and clinics is moving forward. The UN and the World Health Organization are working with local officials to immunize 240,000 children against disease. International teams already have cleared more than a million square meters of land for mines, including 3000 homes and 500 schools. 350 Kosovo residents are undergoing training to join demining efforts.
Kosovo's children are back at school. Mail service has been restored. Farmlands are alive with tractors and livestock. Factories and stores are back in business. Radio-Television Kosovo will resume broadcasting this month, with participation by Serbs as well as ethnic Albanians. If you walked down the streets of Pristina or Pec or Prizren today, you would hear the sounds of hammers, building and repairing, and people gathered in the cafes and squares.
There are many ways in which life in Kosovo remains far from normal, but in all these ways, life for the vast majority of Kosovo's people actually is more normal than before the war. At last, children are learning in their own language; parents are going back to their jobs; citizens are shaping their own future. This is not a return to the frightening twilight of the past, but the birth of something new in Kosovo: it is freedom.
The UN's civil administration, under France's Bernard Kouchner, formerly head of Doctors Without Borders, and America's Jock Covey, has deployed far more quickly than previous missions, such as Bosnia or Cambodia. Nearly 300 UN professional staff are in place, and the UN Mission is in every part of Kosovo.
Already, it has laid the groundwork for institutions of self-government. It has begun to build a local court system, with some 50 Kosovo residents, including Serbs, serving as justice officials. Courts are functioning in Pristina and Prizren, and two mobile courts hear emergency cases. More than 1000 international police officers are already in Kosovo, with 2000 more expected soon. Their work is showing results: Crime, particularly arson, has steadily declined, though violence continues. Kosovo's police academy will graduate its first class of 168 cadets next month, the start of a local force that we hope will have 3000 officers by next September. As in Bosnia, capable police will allow us to draw down peacekeeping troops as time goes on.
Kosovo residents are drafting the legal framework for Kosovo's economy. UN authorities are collecting sales and excise taxes and customs duties, a first step toward building banking and fiscal systems.
Kosovo's political and civic leaders have been meeting in a Kosovo Transitional Council, which will lay the groundwork for local autonomy. Regrettably, its Serb members resigned last week, and we must work to bring them back to this important body soon. Meanwhile, the UN begins registering citizens tomorrow, as a step toward free elections, likely to be next year.
All-in-all, we are on track in rebuilding physical structures and building new political structures. But that won't guarantee a stable Kosovo. We must also address three fundamental, interconnected, and difficult challenges: channeling the energy of former KLA members into building a just society; protecting the safety of all groups in Kosovo; and encouraging a democratic Serbia that will allow Serbs and Kosovars alike to determine their future peacefully. The three challenges embrace a single one: keeping a brutal past from engulfing a hopeful future.
First, we must see that ex-KLA members work with us in building a strong, democratic Kosovo. The task of integrating former rebels into the political process is not, of course, unique to Kosovo. We have seen it accomplished successfully in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua. But here the challenge is different, for the old order has been swept away, and some former KLA may think they are better off without the international community.
That is why the agreement reached last week to end the KLA and form the Kosovo Protection Corps is an important step, critical to preventing formation of an active, obstructionist rebel underground. The new corps will work on reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, not armed resistance. The agreement sharply limits the number of self-defense weapons available to them and caps their full-time membership.
Most former KLA now appear ready to assume roles in a democratic Kosovo -- as part of the new corps, or in the new local police, as members of political parties, or seizing opportunities to study and work that they were long denied. This will isolate those who, hardened by life under a brutal and corrupt tyranny, would prefer a future where violence and intolerance carry the day.
Fostering such a climate is essential if we are to address the second challenge I noted: protecting the security of all Kosovo's people, including the Serbs and other minorities, so those who have left will see the possibility of returning. Today, most Kosovar Albanians can enjoy their lives after ten years of oppression, though there continue to be Kosovar victims of violence by Serbs. At the same time the Serb minority is suffering. About half of the 200,000 Kosovo Serbs have fled. Many who have stayed live in fear. Serbs have been harassed and assaulted and murdered.
We must be clear: NATO did not fight in Kosovo for one ethnic group over another. We fought for a stable, peaceful Europe -- and for the principle that no people should be destroyed or driven out because of their ethnicity or faith. The violence and terror we have seen against Kosovo's Serbs does not match the scale of Milosevic's rampage. But it is no less contemptible. And we have told Kosovar Albanian leaders that if they fail to oppose it, they will lose the support of the international community.
Ending the cycles of hate and revenge also will require, I believe, a vigorous commitment to seeing justice done. More than 200 atrocity sites have been identified. In the short-term, focusing on war crimes may create some more polarization. But if the people of Kosovo see that there can be justice through law, they will be less likely to seek justice through vengeance.
Still, in the end, despite all of the work we are doing in Kosovo, a stable and enduring peace in the Balkans is impossible without a transition to democracy in Serbia.
Milosevic continues to stoke conflict. Serb paramilitary violence in Kosovo has persisted, particularly in areas bordering the rest of Serbia. There has been continued Serb pressure on Montenegro.
And Milosevic continues to violently suppress the Serb people. Yesterday's contemptible attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Belgrade shows Milosevic's desperation, his fear that forces of democracy will turn the tide. After all the suffering Milosevic has caused the Serb people, he can no longer beat them into submission. His brutality is helping to unite opposition forces. They are meeting today in Belgrade to try to forge a common strategy.
Only by uniting can they bring change. We are seeking to promote unity ... aiding democratic opposition parties, civic and student groups, unions and independent media ... broadcasting honest news into Serbia ... targeting economic sanctions at Milosevic and his corrupt cronies. And we will continue the war crimes investigations until there is justice.
Our efforts to promote democracy in Serbia and Kosovo are part of a larger effort to strengthen democracy, opportunity and integration across southeast Europe. We advanced this work over the summer when President Clinton and leaders from more than 35 other nations came together in Sarajevo -- a city once firmly in the grip of war and atrocities -- to launch the Stability Pact, a framework for a better future for the region.
There are those who say the only solution to the region's ethnic problems is to redraw its borders around ethnically-based states. Some want to partition Kosovo into separate zones. We rejected that solution in Bosnia. And we reject it in Kosovo. Partition would be a disaster, uprooting people into ethnic cantons, causing more bloodshed, suffering, and anger.
The people of Kosovo should never again be ruled by Milosevic or his ilk. But as the President has said, the last thing the Balkans needs is more Balkanization. That is why we do not support independence.
But that is not a decision to be made now. Indeed, trying to force resolution would only disrupt and endanger the difficult and fundamental work we now face: Helping the people of Kosovo live in safety and dignity ... build democratic institutions that are inclusive and protect minorities ... and create an economy that can sustain their people. In the future, Kosovo's status will be decided with the participation of its residents and the international community. We should not assume what the outcome of that process will be, because it will depend in part on events we cannot predict today, including Serbia's progress toward democracy and Southeast Europe's progress toward integration.
Ultimately, Kosovo's future depends on the people who live there. I have talked today about our responsibilities, but let me say something more about theirs.
The international community expects the Kosovar Albanians to do everything possible to encourage Serbs to return to the Kosovo Transitional Council, to participate in the police force, the courts, and other institutions of government. Public statements to this effect would be good, but concrete actions are also necessary.
Kosovo's Albanians must accept that Russian troops are an integral part of KFOR and have proved themselves able and impartial in fulfilling their duties. We expect the blockade of the city of Orahovac -- which ethnic Albanians have maintained since August to keep Russian troops from entering -- to be lifted. And the Kosovar Protection Corps must serve all Kosovo's communities, including Serbs.
Meanwhile, Kosovo's Serbs must understand that partition is not in the cards. Threats to create a parallel government or armed forces must cease. They must work to resolve the stand-off in Mitrovica, where Serbs and ethnic Albanians repeatedly have clashed.
The people of Kosovo -- Serbs, Albanians, and others -- must struggle against the cycles of hate. They must stop occupying each other's houses, confronting each other in the street, destroying each other's property, and inflicting on each other brutal acts of ethnic violence. We cannot expect Kosovo to achieve a state of multiethnic harmony any time soon. But Kosovo should be a place where people of every ethnic group can live their lives without fear.
The people of Kosovo must take responsibility. And as Kosovo and the international community continue on the path of progress, it is essential that the United States walk with them.
Some in Congress question why our country should participate in this work. I think the reason is clear: Building democracy, opportunity and stability in Kosovo and the region is strongly in America's national interest. We have a historic opportunity to finish the work we have been doing over the past decade: building a peaceful, undivided, democratic Europe. Integrating the Balkans and southeast Europe into Europe's mainstream -- just as we did with Central Europe over the last decade -- will make it far less likely that our troops will be asked to fight another, costlier European war down the road. We must not settle for a victory in combat but let the larger prize of a safer, better Europe slip away.
This effort will require funding. The European Union has committed to provide the lion's share for Kosovo's reconstruction and for southeast Europe. It must meet that commitment. But the United States must meet our responsibilities as well. For the people of Kosovo, for people of the region, the United States is a powerful symbol of hope and resolve.
We want to work with the Congress, with members in both parties who see that our prosperity and security at home depends in great measure on our ability to solve critical problems overseas -- and that a wise investment now can save money -- and lives -- down the road.
Americans should be proud of what we stood for and what we achieved in the Kosovo conflict. We and our allies reversed a campaign of ethnic terror -- and created an enormous opportunity to make a safer world. It would be tragic if we squandered this hard-won opportunity. We owe it to the troops who fought so courageously -- and to our children -- to finish the job and build a lasting peace.