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Yugoslavia: Kosovo Faces Daunting Task Of Reconciliation

Now that most of Kosovos refugees have returned home, the problem of rebuilding the province's war-ravaged infrastructure is coming to the fore. Kosovo will need to rebuild or repair bridges, roads, factories, railroads, airfields, and thousands of ordinary homes. As our correspondent inside the province reports, efforts at reconstruction offer a view into the larger and even more difficult task of reconciling Kosovo's Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Pristina, 22 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Among the most pressing infrastructure needs in Kosovo are water and electricity. This week, British KFOR forces put one of Kosovo's two main coal-fired power stations -- known as Kosovo-A -- back on line.

Kosovo-A is located a few kilometers from the provincial capital, Pristina. It was begun in 1963 and completed a decade later. The plant boasts five generators of U.S. and Russian origin, which at one time supplied power to all of Kosovo, as well as much of Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and parts of Greece. At present, a single generator is operating. It alone provides half of the electricity for the province.

When KFOR rolled into Kosovo last month, all state enterprises in the province, which had been run on orders from Belgrade, were taken over by NATO-appointed military officials. Hospitals, factories, and even major hotels across the province are now headed by NATO officers. Eventually, the plan is to hand over these tasks to the UN administration, which has been given broad powers to run Kosovo as a virtual protectorate into the next millennium.

For now, since Pristina and the surrounding area fall into the British sector, the Kosovo-A power plant is run by British Colonel Max Heron and his assistant for the Royal Engineers, Major Joe Fuller. Both men head a management committee of ethnic Albanians and Serbs, as well as a mixed staff of 850 plant workers -- a fact KFOR is keen to highlight.

Operating an aging electrical plant in the war-ravaged province provides a variety of purely technical challenges. But Kosovo-A is also an illustration of how difficult it is to untangle politics and ethnicity from the running of everyday affairs in Kosovo. The acts of violence which the forces of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic committed against Kosovos ethnic Albanians in recent months was only the final act in a long-running campaign of harassment and de facto apartheid.

For many years, the Serbs in Kosovo had the upper hand. But now it is the ethnic Albanians -- who make up over 90 percent of Kosovos population -- who have come out on top. And despite NATOs careful words on promoting reconciliation, many ethnic Albanians feel it is time for revenge.

In 1989 and 1990 -- as part of a series of laws abolishing Kosovos autonomy within Serbia -- the Belgrade government adopted measures that led to the dismissal of 100,000 ethnic Albanians from their jobs in the province.

Nearly all ethnic Albanian state employees -- from doctors and teachers to policemen and power-plant workers -- were fired. Strict rules were enforced to keep the Serbian and ethnic Albanian populations apart. Many state schools were closed, and those that remained opened were segregated. Ethnic Albanians were even banned from attending soccer games.

Now that KFOR has begun reopening former state enterprises, ethnic Albanians who were wrongfully fired a decade ago are returning to claim their old jobs, leading to ugly scenes of confrontation.

KFOR has been eager to present the reopening of Kosovo-A as a success story. Major Heron explains how efforts were made to bring back some of the ethnic Albanians who used to work at the plant:

"We established lists at the factory gates of each facility, basically, and if they wanted to come back to work they signed on the list. We had two lists. One for those who had a job and one those who had lost their jobs 10 years ago. And using that system, we could then bring people back in controlled fashion. Weve made it clear that we couldnt take everybody -- that we could only take those that we actually needed to get it going. So were not up to full capacity by any means at the moment. In fact, weve probably got more people then we immediately need, but were building it up, and as you can see, theyre working well together. The great joy of Sunday night is that this control room had a common goal, which was to get the power restored."

But under this thin veneer of ethnic cooperation, cracks are already appearing. Turbine operator Remzi Haziri -- an ethnic Albanian -- worked at Kosovo-A before he was fired in 1989. He returned to work a few days ago. Haziri says working with the Serbs after what happened 10 years ago, as well as the events of the past several months, will not be easy:

"How can we feel forgiveness when we know what they did to our work place? Its very hard. The first day we came here, we found all our equipment destroyed. For us, it was a big shock. We worked with the Serbs for 23 years, and we came here and found everything destroyed. We were forced to restart everything from scratch. Equipment was looted or wrecked. For now, its very hard to survive this cooperation, but what else can we do?"

Haziri also talks about the more personal difficulty of working with the Serbs. He says he and his ethnic Albanian colleagues spent much of the spring hiding from Serbian forces or sheltering in refugee camps across the border, while their Serbian neighbors and former work mates looked on or helped in the persecution. Several ethnic Albanians at the reopened plant had family members killed by Serbian police and paramilitary units.

Haziri says he considers himself lucky:

"Last year, Serbian secret police came to my work place. They beat me and broke my jaw. They also came to my house and maltreated me together with my wife. This year, on February 25, they came to arrest me, but I fled and I didnt give myself up until our day of freedom came. I managed to hide in the mountains with my friends."

Haziris colleague, Emin Stapovci, brings out a ledger. He shows visitors how up to 1989, daily entries on plant operations were written in both Serbian and Albanian. Then he points to a note in red pen which warns: "All Entries To Be Written In The State Language: Serbian."

Stapovci says all the knobs and dials in the vast control room were relabeled from Albanian to Serbian. And now, Stapovci says, journalists ask if ethnic Albanians can work with the Serbs and even eat lunch with them. Personally, Stapovci says, he cant.

Aside from the issue of ethnicity is the purely technical question of retraining. Running a sophisticated power plant with engineers who are 10 years out of practice will not be easy -- at least at the start. Perhaps that is why KFOR has decided to retain the services of Zoran Stanisavljevic "a Serb" who was Kosovo-As chief electrical engineer before the war.

When the microphones are turned off, Stanisavljevic confesses that the atmosphere in Kosovo is tense. He says it is going to be very difficult to build a multiethnic democracy in Kosovo. Maybe, he says, theyll build a monoethnic one. At least thats the way things are going now, he says. Displaying a streak of black humor, he adds, "You foreign journalists are lucky not to live in the Balkans."

It is going to take a long time to put Kosovo back together, both physically and spiritually -- to fix the broken connections. On my return to Pristina, like every other evening, the power goes off -- momentarily plunging the city into darkness.