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Libya Not Quite the Same as Serbia

Vesna Peric Zimonjic

BELGRADE, Mar 28 2011 (IPS) - The month of March, named after the Roman god of war, Mars, appears to be the favourite among war planners in modern times.

Allied planes began the air campaign against Libya on Mar. 19, while Mar. 24 marked the 12th anniversary of the start of 11 weeks of NATO raids against Serbia.

To many Serbs, the action against Libya brought back the traumatic memories of bombing that left some 2,500 dead and profoundly devastated the country’s infrastructure.

Small rallies in solidarity with the Libyan people were organised in Belgrade and a Facebook support group got more than 50,000 sympathisers in a matter of days. Serbian government called for full respect of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973 so that the civilians would be “spared from suffering”.

Like the campaign in Libya, the one against Serbia began in the name of humanitarian cause. In the latter’s case, it was protection of some two million ethnic Albanians in the southern province of Kosovo. In Libya, it is the opponents of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi.

But although the air campaign against Libya bears many resemblances to NATO action against Serbia and at the beginning looked almost the same, analysts say that there are profound differences between the two.


“Similarities amount to technical ones,” security and military analyst Zoran Dragisic told IPS. “The targets are Libyan military installations, anti-aircraft artillery positions, troops that move on the ground and the proclaimed assistance to those who are against a leader,” he added.

In Serbia, Kosovo Albanians were suffering under the repression of former leader Slobodan Milosevic. Belgrade’s army and police were engaged in crushing the armed rebellion of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), dubbed as guerrilla and terrorist movement by central authorities since 1998. The KLA fought for independence of Kosovo from Serbia, Albanians and Serbs being no next of kin in the ethnic and religious sense.

But dissimilarities outweigh the similarities between the two campaigns, Dragisic explains, mostly in the legal and political sense.

“In Serbia, it was NATO that led the action, and there was no coverage for it in terms of international law,” Dragisic said. “In case of Libya, there are ‘allies’ with some important states abstaining, and we have the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.”

Politically, he adds, the goal of the Libyan action is unclear, unlike the goal designed for Serbia — relief from Belgrade rule over Kosovo Albanians.

Kosovars had long sought independence and the road was open when Serbian police and military completely withdrew from Kosovo after the end of NATO campaign. The territory went under U.N. administration and built democratic institutions of its own, which led to unilateral declaration of independence in 2008. Kosovo has been recognised by some 76 states so far.

“Politically, in the case of Libya, things are less clear. There is a rebellion inside one nation, and the goal of intervention is not clear — is it toppling of Gaddafi, control of oil, occupation of Libya? But how? International forces could enter only from neighbouring countries, which form no part of major military alliances,” Dragisic adds.

For ordinary Serbs, things are much more complicated than “simple action-solution,” as a Belgradian teacher Stojan Pavlovic (45) puts it.

“It’s not the same when one nation is fighting within itself (like Libya), and when separatists (ethnic Albanians) cut away from what used to be Serbia since times immemorial,” he added in a reference to the fact that Serbia is still waging a diplomatic battle saying that Kosovo is an “inseparable part” of it.

Many Serbs also point out that Kosovo leaders, former prominent KLA guerrillas, are under international scrutiny for alleged involvement in organised crime. It includes drugs and arms smuggling and accusations of trafficking of human organs taken from captured civilians or prisoners of war, at times of power vacuum and turmoil following the end of the NATO bombing in 1999.

“We know nothing about the leaders of the Libyan rebellion,” analyst Aleksandar Radic told IPS. “It is unclear who they are, what are the forces gathered behind them at home who support them, and what are their political motives,” he adds.

In the case of Kosovo it was clear, Radic explains, but it was also clear in the times that followed, as Slobodan Milosevic fell from power in October 2000. He refused to recognise the elections he lost for the presidency, but stepped down only after the peaceful popular uprising that took hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets of Belgrade.

If Gaddafi is the target, it has not been revealed yet by the parties engaged in the conflict, Radic says.

“Serbia had the unified opposition at the time (in 2000), but we see tribal division in Libya. Besides, in Libya there are no social issues such as those that united Serbs impoverished by wars and the NATO bombing in 2000,” Radic said.

For both Dragisic and Radic, the outcome of the operation against Libya is yet to be seen and is hardly predictable.

“There are no wars that end with a draw,” Dragisic said. “But so far, we see no clear goal.”

“If there will be partition of Libya, as mentioned, it will again only look like Serbia, but will not be the same, due to the nature of the Kosovo issue,” Radic said.

 
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