Just three weeks ago in Albania, I interviewed Kosovar refugees who were returning to Kosovo. I knew from reports all the basic facts. Kosovo refugees beginning in late fall 1998 and continuing throughout the war were driven from their homes. Well over 12,000 were killed, many after being tortured. Homes were destroyed. It was all part of a plan targeting ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. It was genocide.

Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb leader of Yugoslavia has been indicted as the director-in-chief of this master plan to kill and destroy. The world community thus wants him to be deported or to voluntarily appear at The Hague to answer charges that he committed crimes against humanity.

Few of the returning Kosovars knew what they were returning to; whether their homes had been destroyed and/or ransacked. In most cases they found the worst; destroyed homes and the remains of family members and friends killed by Serb military or police.

There is clear bitterness in their hearts as they clean up the rubble and exhume the bodies for reburial. It is easy to understand their bitterness from a human point of view. This suffering was inflicted from a concrete, original plan.

It will take some time for the process of reconciliation to start. The Judeo-Christian message preaches forgiveness; it also requires those who committed the crimes to admit to their acts, request forgiveness and to "do penance." Forgiveness and reconciliation happen, but they must come from the hearts of the people.

The U.S. government, however, is imposing its policy of immediate reconciliation and "living together as next door neighbors." In my opinion it will not work; worse than that it will encourage more violence and instability in Kosovo. We now need a period of recuperation and healing. As we know from our Western experiences in the past several centuries, meaningful reconciliation will come after healing. In the West it has come from the people; it has not been imposed by outside forces.

I speak from experience. In the early 1970s I was the U.S. ambassador to Burundi. I witnessed firsthand the blood bath between the Hutu and the Tutsi communities resulting in the deaths of more than 150,000 people.

Ethnic confrontation was rooted in centuries-old alienation and animosity between the two communities. When outside forces (German or Belgian) were there, they prevented major confrontations.

With the arrival of independence in 1962, outside forces determined that the Hutu and Tutsi communities in Burundi and Rwanda, despite four to five centuries of deep alienation, should live together in a pluralistic democracy. The first ethnic strife occurred in the two countries in 1962-63.

Following a second wave in Burundi, I submitted to the U.S. Department of State in 1972 a plan for the separation of the two communities. I argued that it would permit healing so that eventually there could be a pluralistic society. My plan was rejected. Since then there have been two additional wars, and life in Burundi remains very precarious.

The worst genocide since World War II occurred in neighboring Rwanda. Over a half-million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in 1994 in a Hutu government-sponsored genocide.

And yet the U.S. policy remains: immediate reconciliation, instant pluralism and living together.

In 1963 the new country of Malaysia was formed from the federation of the former British crown colony of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak and Sabrah. Just two years later Singapore left the federation because of communal violence and race riots.

After visiting Albania, I spent a week in nearby Bosnia-Herzegovina. Outside forces -- thousands of troops from the United States and Europe -- are maintaining the peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Reconciliation and healing on the other hand will come only from the people.

The current U.S. policy has been selective in terms of where it is implemented. Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo seem to be the areas where the principle is applied of forcing reconciliation and pluralistic living together when the wounds of hatred, suffering and torture have not been healed. This, in my opinion, is clearly inadvisable. The record also shows that it is frequently the prelude to future violence.

The policy in Kosovo should be examined. The ethnic Albanians should be allowed to start life over again. Some arrangement can be worked out for the minority Serbs. But forcing them to live together will only energize more violence, as it has in Burundi and Rwanda.

The writer is a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, Burundi and Uganda, and former senior adviser to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations.