Third World nations split over Kosovo

The attack on Yugoslavia has split the Non-Aligned Movement, with the majority of Muslim nations backing NATO's intervention.

by Thalif Deen

THE United States, seeking international support for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) military attacks on Yugoslavia, has found a political ally at the United Nations: the world body's Islamic countries.

The 114-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), the largest single political bloc for developing nations, remains divided on the Kosovo crisis, with Muslim nations backing US and NATO aims in Kosovo and a handful of other states - including NAM stalwarts like India and Cuba - opposing the attacks on Belgrade.

The overwhelming majority of the 56 Islamic states at the United Nations is backing NATO primarily because the victims of Yugoslavia's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo are the province's ethnic Albanian Muslim majority, UN diplomats said.

Since the beginning of air strikes on 24 March, the NAM has spent nearly two weeks conducting a futile effort to produce a one-page statement on Kosovo that would reflect the political views of all 114 members. But the Movement is so badly split that it cannot reach consensus on an agreed text, diplomats told IPS.

The issue, they said, has boiled down to competing allegations: Muslims believe that the NAM should condemn ethnic cleansing by Yugoslavia's Serbian majority, while NATO's critics call the air strikes a violation of Yugoslavia's national sovereignty.

One draft statement, favoured by Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, Kuwait and other Gulf states, 'condemns the perpetration of all acts of destruction, repression, abuses of human rights and other atrocities, specifically ethnic cleansing, carried out by the parties to the conflict, but caused mainly by the Yugoslav authorities'. That text adds that Belgrade's actions led to 'an escalation of fighting in Kosovo and the failure of the ceasefire agreement'.

A second draft, favoured by Cuba, Belarus and India, shifts the emphasis and instead 'condemns the military force applied by NATO against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia without the authorisation of the Security Council'. It stresses that 'any humanitarian intervention under international law must not affect the political independence or territorial integrity of any state'.

Dramatic turnaround

Some diplomats have called the deadlock in the NAM over Kosovo especially tragic because it concerns one of the Movement's founding members, Yugoslavia.

One UN diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told IPS that there has been a dramatic turnaround in political support for the United States among Muslim countries. In recent years, he said, the Pentagon had focused its military efforts on Islamic countries, including Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan. 'This time around, the United States is bombing a country in order to protect a Muslim minority,' he said.

While it continues to bomb Iraq on a regular basis, the US Navy last year fired several Tomahawk cruise missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan as a retaliation for their alleged involvement in international terrorism. (Osama bin Laden, a Saudi financier living in Afghanistan, has been named as a suspect in the August 1998 bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.)

A US State Department 'hit list' of countries designated 'terrorist states' is also weighted heavily against Islamic nations. Of the seven, five are Muslim nations - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan and Libya - and two are Communist states, Cuba and North Korea.

On 26 March a draft resolution, submitted by Belarus, Russia and India, which condemned the NATO attack, failed to win the support of a minimum of nine nations in the 15-member UN Security Council. The resolution was rejected by 12 votes to three, with only Russia, China and Namibia voting in favour.


Malaysia and Gambia, the two Muslim countries in the Council, voted with the Council's five NATO member states - the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands and Canada - in rejecting the call for a halt to the air strikes in Yugoslavia.

According to reports from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was toying with the idea of abstaining on the Security Council resolution, but eventually decided to vote against it, taking even US officials by surprise.

One of the few Muslim countries that sent troops to Bosnia in its war against Bosnian Serb separatists backed by Belgrade, Malaysia has traditionally taken an anti-US stand on sensitive political issues at the United Nations.

Yet Muslim nations have increasingly shown unity in their support for the NATO actions.The Contact Group of the 56-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) issued a statement on Kosovo expressing -grave concern that the Belgrade regime under President Slobodan Milosevic has...conducted military operations and is continuing to do so against the civilian population in Kosovo'.

The OIC, the largest group of Muslim countries, also accused the Milosevic government of 'burning entire villages, committing the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing, in contravention of the provisions of the relevant Security Council resolutions and international humanitarian law'. The body called for decisive international action to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe and to protect human rights in Kosovo.

On 5 April, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the foreign minister of Iran, Kamal Kharrazi, phoned him to convey the 'strong concerns' of the OIC, whose Contact Group was expected to meet again in Geneva in the second week of April. Annan warned that the humanitarian crisis in Kosovo is growing, with nearly half a million civilians, mainly Muslims, estimated to have left the province since the beginning of March. - IPS

The above article by an Inter Press Service journalist appeared in South-North Development Monitor (SUNS).