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Congress Wary On Kosovo

Congress was having a hard enough time digesting President Clinton's decision to leave U.S. troops in Bosnia for the foreseeable future. Now, tensions in nearby Kosovo are raising even tougher questions about the U.S. role in the Balkans — questions Congress is not eager to address.

"We always talked in terms of Bosnia that we have to contain that so it will not spill over into the Kosovo region. Now just the reverse has taken place," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va. "It is Kosovo which threatens to spill over, dislodge, and disrupt some of the achievements that have occurred so far in Bosnia."

Congress must confront the question of U.S. policy in the turbulent region when it returns from its Independence Day recess.

Neither the House nor Senate has yet made any provision for paying for maintaining peacekeeping troops in Bosnia beyond Sept. 30, 1998. The administration has requested $1.9 billion. Defense officials say taking it from other accounts would seriously jeopardize U.S. readiness.

The Senate could grapple with the issue as early as this week, when it takes up a defense appropriations bill.

Kosovo is in southern Serbia, the dominant republic in what remains of Yugoslavia. Some 90 percent of its population is ethnic Albanian. Hundreds of civilians have been killed there by Serbian forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Lawmakers have conflicting views on how to deal with the crisis.

Some who opposed sending ground troops to Bosnia in 1995, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., are hinting that the United States and its NATO allies should use force to end Milosevic's crackdowns. "This is a very dangerous situation and the United States working with our NATO allies, cannot stand by for a continuation of ethnic cleansing and slaughter," Lott said recently.

Bob Dole, the former Senate majority leader, wants NATO to conduct air strikes against military installations in Serbia unless Milosevic halts his attacks in Kosovo and agrees to peace talks. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., wants an international war-crimes tribunal to indict Milosevic for crimes against humanity.

But others have voiced more caution. While the fragile government among Serbs, Croats, and Muslims seems to be working in Bosnia, few are optimistic that such a coalition government could function in Kosovo, given the ethnic bitterness between the Serbs and Albanians.

Congressional ambivalence matches changing signals from the Clinton administration.

After spending three months condemning Milosevic, the administration more recently changed its emphasis to include an appeal to rebel forces for restraint. The Kosovo Liberation Army has had unexpected military successes against Milosevic's forces. The KLA wants full independence from Serbia and the creation of a state of Greater Albania a step the United States opposes.

By Tom Raum