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Yugoslavs Order U.S. Envoy Out Massacre Investigators Thwarted

January 19, 1999

by Guy Dinmore Special to The Washington Post Tuesday, January 19, 1999

BELGRADE, Jan. 18—Yugoslavia ordered the U.S. diplomat who heads the international peace-monitoring mission in Kosovo to leave the country within 48 hours, defying Western criticism following the killing of 45 ethnic Albanian villagers.

William Walker, who had blamed Friday’s massacre in the village of Racak on Serbian security forces, was declared persona non grata in an official statement released through state media. Meanwhile, Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor for the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, was turned back by Yugoslav border guards when she tried to enter Kosovo. The guards said she did not have a visa.

On the ground, the violence continued. Serbian forces reportedly shelled Racak today with artillery and tanks, while Serbian police fought their way back into the village and removed the bodies of 40 massacre victims from the local mosque. Hundreds of civilians reportedly fled the area into nearby forests in freezing weather.

Diplomats described today’s moves by Yugoslav and Serbian officials as gestures of defiance directed toward Western governments seeking to mediate a settlement of the 11-month-old conflict between Serbian security forces and ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, Yugoslavia’s dominant republic. After fighting raged in the province during the spring and summer, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed — under threat of NATO military action — to a cease-fire and troop withdrawal in October.

But diplomats said that the peace process was close to total collapse and expected a resumption of full-scale war, presenting NATO with the divisive issue of whether to take military action. Milosevic refused to meet with U.S. Army Gen. Wesley Clark, NATO’s supreme commander, who was dispatched by the alliance to Belgrade to warn the Serbian leader to respect the cease-fire. Diplomats said Clark was expected to meet Milosevic in Belgrade on Tuesday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman James P. Rubin called Walker’s expulsion “unacceptable” and said Washington was calling for the order to be reversed.

At the United Nations, Security Council President Celso Amorim of Brazil said council members “deplored” Belgrade’s decision to expel Walker and confirmed their full support for him and the 800 peace monitors working under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Amorim called on Belgrade to rescind that decision immediately.

Belgrade-based diplomats said Milosevic was once again trying to play on divisions among Western governments, possibly with the intention of getting Walker replaced by his French deputy, Gabriel Keller, who is widely regarded as being more critical of the ethnic Albanian separatist movement in Kosovo.

But Rubin said the Serbs’ recent actions are “only digging a deeper and deeper hole for them internationally.” Noting that NATO’s so-called activation order authorizing military action remains in effect, Rubin refused to speculate whether airstrikes would be ordered but said “Milosevic is playing with fire here.”

Clark, while refusing to speculate on whether NATO would launch airstrikes, warned that Milosevic should not gamble on splitting the Western alliance.

“I would say that the Serbian leadership should be under no illusion, under no hope of disunity. The alliance is fully united in condemning the Racak massacre. The activation order is in effect, planning is continuing and the alliance is prepared to take further measures if deemed necessary,” Clark said in a telephone interview.

“This massacre is the result of Serb handiwork. We are trapped in a spiral of violence driven by Serb repression and intimidation. Until it is broken, we are going to have an escalating conflict,” he said.

Belgrade insists the victims in Racak, who included three women, a 12-year-old boy and several elderly men, were killed in clashes provoked by the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army. State media have alleged that the rebels later took uniforms off the corpses and replaced them with civilian clothing.

Diplomats did not rule out the possibility that the OSCE would close down its verification mission should negotiations fail to reverse the decision.

“This act is totally unacceptable. It may put the whole OSCE mission in jeopardy,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek, who is chairman of the OSCE, told the Reuters news agency.

Walker declined to comment on his expulsion, saying he had not been officially informed of the decision by the Yugoslav government. “Maybe we went beyond the limits [of the mission’s mandate], and that’s why the government is mad at us,” he said.

Walker insisted that “remnants” of the October cease-fire plan remained in place and that ethnic Albanian guerrillas had shown restraint so far by not retaliating for the slaughter in Racak.

News services reported today, however, that ethnic Albanian rebels attacked a Serbian vehicle, wounding five policemen in an ambush 25 miles northwest of the provincial capital, Pristina.

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