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Smoke hasn't cleared

"Smoke hasn't cleared" Continued...

Issue: "Dr. Laura: Taking static," April 8, 2000

Without NATO clearing the way for ethnic Albanians to return, Mr. Johnson said, "Eventually we would have had 2 million refugees living in poor countries like Albania or Macedonia. It would have been worse than Palestinian camps, and they would have been radicalized."

Instead, many church leaders from Albania and workers like Mr. Johnson took help into Kosovo along with the returning refugees. With their assistance, life is returning to some semblance of peace in parts of the region. Nearly 70,000 tons of wheat were harvested last fall-a start to rebuilding Kosovo's largely agrarian economy. Hospitals are being replenished. Stores are reopening. Mr. Johnson and his wife will take up permanent residence in Kosovo later this month, working with USAID to rebuild homes and building a retreat center they hope will one day include a Bible school.

Because some Serbs committed atrocities against the Kosovo Albanians, who are Muslims, in the name of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Mr. Johnson said it was important to minister not by preaching, "but by many acts of love and kindness" at first. The ethnic Albanians "would react to the sign of the cross as Jews would react to a swastika," he said. That has changed. Church workers say Kosovo had no more than five Protestant churches prior to the war; now there are at least 40 church plants. The refugee crisis, ironically, opened up the very provincial and traditionally Muslim region to the Christian gospel. In the last year 75 mission agencies have formed a partnership, the Evangelical League of Kosovo, to work with the young Christian community to further the growth of churches and humanitarian ministries among Kosovars.

Consistent among the returning Kosovars is a desire to be independent from Yugoslavia and its Serbian president, Mr. Milosevic. And that is the heart of the challenge for NATO's peacekeeping mission, known as KFOR. More than 37,000 troops (including 6,000 from the United States) have been unable to stop reverse ethnic cleansing in contested parts of Kosovo. Ethnic Albanians, led by the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), made a commitment to a political solution and ceded control of rebel areas to KFOR. Recent violence in the northern city of Mitrovica, including a grenade attack that wounded 17 KFOR troops, reveals elements of the KLA are still armed and committed to ridding Kosovo of its Serb minority. In February, KFOR's commander, Gen. Klaus Reinhardt, complained, "When NATO came into Kosovo we were only supposed to fight the Yugoslav army if they came back uninvited. Now we're finding we have to fight the Albanians."

Craig Nation, a military studies professor at the U.S. Army War College who specializes in Kosovo, said maintaining peace will be harder than winning the war. "The good news is that events a year ago really held promise of being open-ended, low- or medium-intensive conflict. That cycle has been broken," he said. "The bad news is that ethnic conflict has not gone away." Creating a multicultural Kosovo with explicit autonomy inside Yugoslavia is, in many ways, as elusive as ever.

"We achieved military ends in Kosovo but not our larger political ends. We still risk failure on those. If we want to achieve them, it will take a different kind of commitment and a longer-term commitment," Mr. Nation said. "It is a lot harder to sell that than to sell a military response to atrocities like we did a year ago."

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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