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Yugoslavia: Officials Cite Tensions, Ask For More Resources For Kosovo

  • Robert McMahon

The international community's top officials in Kosovo have called for more resources to help stabilize and rebuild the province. They told UN Security Council members yesterday that the ethnic tensions in Kosovo remain severe but they stressed there has been progress in putting together local administrative structures. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 7 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Interethnic violence and a new threat emerging near the Kosovo border with the rest of Serbia are causing deep concern among UN officials charged with administering the province.

In lengthy Security Council sessions yesterday and in press briefings, the top civilian and military officials in Kosovo said that embedded hatreds and intolerance continued to threaten the province's efforts to rebuild.

The Security Council heard from the UN's administrator in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, and the commander of NATO's Kosovo force, Klaus Reinhardt, that the need for officials to enforce law and order is acute. Their comments followed the latest report of Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Kosovo, which said the situation remains "far from tolerance, let alone reconciliation."

Annan's special representative for humanitarian affairs in Kosovo, Dennis McNamara, told reporters yesterday that overall crime rates are way down. But he said the level of violence against ethnic minorities remains distressingly high.

"I'm afraid that the minority groups, wherever they are, are disproportionately targeted in violent attacks, on a regular basis. Mitrovica has been in my view only the most visible tip of this Kosovo-wide problem of attacks on minorities, harassment, intimidation and persecution."

McNamara said other areas that could spill over into crisis spots include Orahovac in the southwest, Prizren and the Gnjilane area. He said in these areas, minority groups, primarily Serbs, were "under siege" by ethnic Albanians.

Reinhardt's briefing to the Security Council addressed the challenge of protecting these minority communities. He said that more than 100 British soldiers are living and guarding Serbian families in Pristina and KFOR soldiers regularly escort Serbian and Romany children to schools.

Meanwhile, McNamara said the humanitarian operation in Kosovo this winter can be judged a success. Despite the widespread destruction of Kosovo Albanian homes by Serbian forces, he said enough shelter, clothing and food was provided to help civilians get through the most difficult part of the winter.

McNamara says the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, one of the pillars of the international aid effort for Kosovo, is now looking to move out of the province by mid-year, its job essentially done. He said the refugee agency is looking to step aside so that other agencies can help in the process of reconstructing Kosovo in areas such as housing, utilities and social welfare.

While the province rebuilds and attempts to form representative governing bodies, there are growing questions about the degree of autonomy it is meant to have.

The Security Council resolution that ended NATO's 78-day bombing campaign put the United Nations in charge of Kosovo's civilian administration. It calls for the UN mission to set up an interim government with "substantial autonomy" within Yugoslavia.

Kouchner told reporters late yesterday that the resolution contained some ambiguities about the future of Kosovo within the Yugoslav federation. He said he urged the council to begin discussing the terms for autonomy.

"We need to start a very clear discussion about the future of all communities. By example, the Serbs: they want to know very precisely about safety, about their future, in terms of leaving the country. We are not going at all to expel the Serbs."

Kouchner also expressed confidence that local elections would be held in Kosovo by the end of the year. He said he had found a consensus in favor of elections when he briefed the Security Council.

Political divisions within the Kosovo Serb community as well as continuing attacks on minorities have hampered the efforts of Kouchner to secure the participation of Kosovo Serb representatives in the Joint Interim Administrative Structure. But Kouchner reports progress among the majority ethnic Albanians in forming departments that oversee health, education and local administration. There has been particular progress on forming municipal level structures in regions around Pec, Prizren and Pristina.

Kouchner said yesterday that he invited council members to visit Kosovo, similar to trips some council members took to East Timor while peacekeeping operations were under way there. And he said the council agreed to his request to appoint an official to handle the issue of missing persons. The UN estimates there are about 3,000 cases of missing persons since the outbreak of conflict in Kosovo.

One area of concern cited by all visiting officials yesterday was the Presovo border zone between Serbia proper and Kosovo, where Serbian police and a UN official came under attack in recent days. Near the region is the largest settlement of ethnic Albanians remaining in Serbia and officials are concerned about extremists among both Serbs and Albanians inciting violence there.

Reinhardt, the KFOR commander, told reporters that his forces in the border zone have now been realigned to be able to cope with any new threat in the area. He said KFOR is on alert for people trying to smuggle guns to extremists in the area.

"Whomever we see supporting them will be arrested by us because we cannot support any adventurism, which might lead to new atrocities in the Presovo Valley."

Reinhardt earlier told the Security Council that the situation in Mitrovica also remains precarious. He said KFOR will continue to work with UNMIK police to keep the area calm by providing security for the Serbs, insulating the region from extremists, assisting in two-way returns of residents to their homes and ultimately eliminating the "green line" dividing the town.