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Kosovo: Observers See UN Mission As Flawed But Essential

  • Joe Lauria

One year after the United Nations began to govern Kosovo, the territory is still not a safe place for all residents. RFE/RL's Joe Lauria assesses the United Nations' performances and prospects in the troubled province.

United Nations, 12 June 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The week before the anniversary of the UN and NATO entrance into Kosovo saw an upsurge in ethnic violence, much of it directed against the minority Serbs.

It was not the kind of fresh impression that Bernard Kouchner, leader of the UN mission in the province, could have hoped for before reporting to the UN Security Council on mission's progress.

Kouchner sought to put into perspective the task assumed by the United Nations one year ago and highlight its progress despite the obstacles. But he could not avoid mention of the ongoing violence.

On any first anniversary, Kouchner told the council, you usually light a candle. But he says that would be inappropriate now.

"We have reduced by ten times the amount of crime, but there persists too much murder, violence, arson, and actions directed particularly against the Serbs of Kosovo."

The Security Council said it was concerned about the increase in attacks against Serbs and other minorities by ethnic Albanians during a special session on Friday. The council unanimously backed both the UN and NATO missions in Kosovo, and the German, U.S., and Russian upper legislative chambers all agreed this week to keep their troops in Kosovo.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters during a stopover at the UN on Thursday that it's important to remember how severe the Kosovo crisis was before NATO and then the United Nations intervened.

"There is a long way to go, but I think we also have to remember how far we have come and how important it was that the international community took steps for Kosovo. It is something that I think we should all be very proud of."

But Yugoslav authorities continue to reject NATO's justification for its 78-day bombing campaign. Yugoslavia's representative at the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, last week reaffirmed Belgrade's position that its actions in Kosovo last year were in response to attacks by the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army.

"The only motivation for responding by force to the escalating terroristic activities of the KLA was the danger they presented for order and the repeated killings, not only of policemen, but of civilians as well."

Jovanovic said Yugoslavia had placed its confidence in the UN mission a year ago but has been deeply disappointed.

Meanwhile, a new study by a U.S.-based think-tank criticizes the UN-NATO effort in Kosovo as misguided and inept. The study by the Cato Institute says the international effort to bring multiethnic democracy to Kosovo has been a "conspicuous failure."

NATO's intervention not only sparked the initial round of ethnic cleansing against Kosovo's Albanian minority, the study charges, but it also laid the groundwork for fresh ethnic cleansing now being waged against Serbs and other ethnic minorities in Kosovo.

The Cato report says it was a mistake to believe that rival factions will settle into "a society shaped by the values of democracy, diversity, and tolerance."

But Kouchner says it's not fair to expect full success in one year in a place where ethnic hostilities have existed for centuries.

Speaking to the Security Council on Friday, Kouchner reviewed some of his mission's accomplishments, beginning with the return of nearly 900,000 refugees. He said schools have reopened, the civilian infrastructure has been rebuilt, and the economy has rebounded, with 70 percent of private businesses restarted since the war.

The UN special representative said the greatest undertaking at the moment is the organization of local elections, set for October. He said registration of ethnic Albanians is well under way but stressed that participation by Serbs will be crucial.

"All efforts must be deployed to convince the Serbs of Kosovo and the Serb refugees in Serbia to participate in the registration for the elections. It is in their interest to be represented in the democratic bodies of Kosovo. It is in the interest of Serbs and other minorities to work with international authorities."

Kosovo's Serbs, fearing for their safety in the election process, have refused to take part. More than 100,000 Serbs have fled Kosovo since the United Nations took over because of the precarious security situation.

Security for Kosovo's minorities as well as the unresolved fate of thousands of missing ethnic Albanians remain two of the most serious issues confronting Kosovo's international guardians.