Friday, June 11, 1999

Bombing campaign
left legacy of problems

Bullet The issue: The withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo achieves NATO's immediate objective but huge problems remain.
Bullet Our view: The peacekeeping force may have to remain in Kosovo for many years.

The end of NATO's 11-week bombing campaign against Yugoslavia comes as a relief, but there is no cause for celebration.

Assuming that Slobodan Milosevic keeps his pledge to withdraw his forces from Kosovo, the allies will have achieved their immediate objective.

However, the victory, such as it is, comes at a fearful cost in lives -- both of the ethnic Albanians who were victims of Milosevic's massacres and to a lesser extent of Serbian military and civilian victims of the bombing. There were also the accidental bombing victims such as Kosovar refugees and Chinese killed in their embassy in Belgrade.

President Clinton and the leaders of the other NATO countries made a huge miscalculation in threatening Milosevic with air strikes if he did not accept the terms of the agreement worked out at Rambouillet, France.

The Yugoslav leader didn't back down. He defied the allies, letting his forces loose to murder and terrorize the ethnic Albanians and drive hundreds of thousands of them from Kosovo. The atrocity was precisely what the allies were trying to prevent.

The fact that the bombing has forced Milosevic to withdraw his troops from Kosovo -- if indeed he fully complies -- should not be allowed to obscure NATO's blunder, which was compounded by the decision to refrain from the use of ground forces.

The road ahead is fraught with difficulties. Many of the homes and much of the property of the ethnic Albanians have been destroyed and most of the people have fled. Inducing the hundreds of thousands of refugees to return may not be easy, nor will be rehabilitating them when they do. Meanwhile part of the Serbian population of Kosovo may choose to leave the province, fearing retribution from the returning Albanians.

The Kosovo rebels fighting for independence are supposed to be disarmed but they may resist. The absence of any mention of a referendum on independence from Yugoslavia -- which was included in the Rambouillet agreement -- could inspire unrest. The deal also appears to skirt the issue of Milosevic's indictment for war crimes, making it likely that he will be able to evade prosecution. If he is allowed to remain in power in Belgrade, this will be a flawed victory at best.

Both Clinton and congressional Republicans are insisting that no U.S. aid be used to repair the damage from the bombing of Yugoslavia, except for Kosovo, as long as Milosevic remains president. That may encourage the Serbs to overthrow him, and we hope it will.

The war has wrecked attempts to resolve the status of Kosovo, which is still nominally a Yugoslav province. The ethnic Albanians cannot be expected to accept continued rule from Belgrade, but independence would present more problems.

The peacekeepers will have to maintain order in a society that has been shattered, much like Bosnia. A return to civilian government seems at this point a distant dream.

For the foreseeable future, military occupation by an international force will be the only way to prevent more violence. That occupation, with the United States playing a leading role, may have to endure for many years.


City budget battle

Bullet The issue: The Honolulu City Council approved the operating and capital improvement budgets after much bickering.
Bullet Our view: A reduced operating budget with no garbage collection fee or increase in bus fares is an acceptable product.

THE City Council adopted operating and capital improvement budgets for the next fiscal year, but only after months of bickering that got increasingly nasty.

That the operating budget was balanced at all after warnings of an impending huge shortfall was something of a miracle. But there were more jeers than cheers at Wednesday's marathon eight-hour Council meeting.

The budgets were the joint product of the Harris administration and the new Council majority led by Chairman Jon Yoshimura. In emphatic opposition were Mufi Hannemann, who was ousted as chairman in the coup led by Yoshimura, plus Donna Mercado Kim and John Henry Felix.

Also making their presence felt were members of a group called the Taxpayer Coalition, who opposed an increase in property tax rates.

Despite all the complaining and the backroom deals that produced the budgets, the results are acceptable. The $1.03 billion operating budget is $37 million, or 3.5 percent, less than the current year's. There will be no fee for collecting garbage, no increase in bus fares or golf fees. Some fees -- for inspections, licenses and various permits -- will go up, however.

No draconic cuts in city services are in prospect. City employees will get $39 million in pay raises, although it isn't entirely clear where the money will come from.

The hike in the property tax rate will mean that most owners will pay the same as this year, not more. Because assessments have been declining for several years, owners will still be paying less than in past years.

However, it appears that the measure discriminates against condominium owners in favor of owners of single-family homes, which seems unjustifiable.

Chairman Yoshimura spoke of a need "to fix the human relations on this Council." Those relations are in dire need of fixing. The members seem to need reminding that they are supposed to serve the public interest -- and behave like adults when they can't get their way.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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Diane Yukihiro Chang, Senior Editor & Editorial Page Editor

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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