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Yugoslavia: Envoy Says Kosovo Critical To Balkan Stability

Stability and self-sustainability for the Balkans region are distant dreams. The international community remains preoccupied with keeping the peace in Kosovo and waiting for a change of leadership in Serbia. A UN special envoy for the Balkans says as long as the core issues of contention in Kosovo are unsettled, it will stall the development of the entire region. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 29 February 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Special envoy Carl Bildt told the UN Security Council yesterday that the Balkans face a conflict between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration.

This is most evident, he says, in Kosovo, where violence committed by both Serbs and ethnic Albanians continues to impede progress toward a lasting settlement for the province. He urged the council to help prevent current tensions in northern Kosovo from spilling over into open conflict.

"We are dealing with a clash between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration in the region. And if the latter are allowed to have the upper hand for long enough, we will see tension building up even more, bringing further conflicts and perhaps even paving the way for conflicts every bit as brutal as those we've already witnessed."

Bildt's comments came after the UN's Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) yesterday reported an increase in the level of violence against Serbs throughout Kosovo. The UN's daily briefing noted the burial today of Dr. Josip Vasic, who was shot on Saturday in Gnjilane. Vasic was one of a small group of Serb physicians who had remained in Kosovo and had worked closely with UNMIK.

A chief area of concern for the UN mission is the slow progress in building up the planned unit of nearly 5,000 international police officers. The current number is about 2,300. Approximately 44,000 KFOR troops are also in the province.

UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard told reporters yesterday that the failure to staff the police force continues to generate discussion in the international community. But he said the process is slowed down by a lack of trained personnel.

"It seems everyone is aware that we're short of these police. The question is what can be done about it. I think the governments are focusing on the issue and we recognize the difficulty of freeing up police who are on the beat. You take them away from their civic duty when you send them abroad and that's not an easy thing for governments to do."

The special Balkan envoy's report to the Security Council today also focused on the importance of engaging Serbia in the stabilization of Kosovo and the region as a whole. But he said that effort is hindered by the current regime.

Bildt said a dilemma was caused by the indictments of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and some of his aides as war criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal on the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

"We can neither make peace without Belgrade nor can we talk about the different issues of the region as a whole without taking in Serbia. But nor is there any way that we can deal with those personalities that are indicted by ICTY or their close associates. We are thus in a certain sense in a situation in which many of our efforts in the region can be seen as little more than a big holding operation until change in Serbia opens up the prospect of moving forward with a proper peace process as well as with a wider regional agenda of reform, of reconciliation and of re-integration."

Despite the indictment of the Yugoslav president, sanctions against the country are going under some minor review. The European Union yesterday formally suspended a ban on commercial flights to Yugoslavia imposed in 1998 in protest at the crackdown on Kosovo.

The decision to lift the flight ban came after Yugoslav opposition leaders complained that it was hurting ordinary citizens. But in its action, the EU also extended travel restrictions on people close to the Belgrade government in an attempt to focus sanctions on the ruling elite Milosevic.

Bildt also raised concern about the relationship of Yugoslavia's two remaining republics -- Serbia and Montenegro. He said the two republics are on a slow but steady "collision course" and singled out Milosevic for blame, saying he has abused the power of federal institutions against Montenegro. The special envoy also praised the restraint of Montenegrin leaders and urged the Security Council to seek ways of providing economic support for the republic.

In response to Bildt's report, Security Council members concurred that the Balkan region as a whole needed to be involved in solutions to issues such as refugees, self-determination and the tensions in Kosovo. The Russian and Ukrainian ambassadors -- Sergei Lavrov and Volodymyr Yelchenko -- sought to point out the threat to peace posed by extremists among ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

"The recent statements by the new leadership of Croatia give us hope for further progress on solving the existing problems of refugee returns in this country. We remain deeply alarmed, however, by the growing large-scale campaign aimed at turning the Kosovo province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia into an ethnically monolithic area."

Yesterday's session at the Security Council begins a series of meetings and briefings at UN headquarters involving stability building measures in the former Yugoslavia. The UN special representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Jacques Klein, will hold a press conference tomorrow. Next week, the UN's Kosovo administrator, Bernard Kouchner, and KFOR's peacekeeping commander, Klaus Reinhardt, will address the Security Council.