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UN: Looming Question On Kosovo: What Is Autonomy?

For two straight days this week, top UN officials have raised concern about the ambiguity of Kosovo's future, focusing on the scope of the province's autonomy within the Yugoslav federation. The Yugoslav envoy and the UN secretary-general both discussed the issue in separate briefings yesterday. UN correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 8 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Amid a flurry of reports, briefings and statements assessing Kosovo at the UN this week, there seemed to be consensus that no one was quite sure what "substantial autonomy" for the province really means.

The UN administrator of Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner, said on Monday that this autonomy had never been defined in the Security Council resolution that created the UN civilian administration in the Serbian province.

But with Kouchner planning to move ahead with local elections by year's end, a sense of urgency is now pressing the issue. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told a news conference at UN headquarters yesterday there was need for clarity. Annan said he will take up the issue shortly with the Security Council. "Without that decision and living in that ambiguity, both communities will have a different understanding and it will be very difficult for Bernard Kouchner and the team to get their job done."

Prior to Annan's remarks, Yugoslavia's envoy to the United Nations, Vladislav Jovanovic, complained of a lack of contact between the UN mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) and theYugoslav government. He told a news conference that Belgrade also wanted more clarity on the question of autonomy before considering local elections.

"We should know at least in broad parameters something about the autonomy, substantial autonomy, which was requested by the Security Council resolution."

The Yugoslav envoy also repeated his government's harsh attacks on the UN mission. He said UN and KFOR had become accomplices in the efforts of Kosovo Albanians extremists to "ethnically cleanse" the province of Serbs.

Jovanovic said NATO had insisted on the speedy withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo last summer but guaranteed there would not be a security vacuum. Instead, he said, NATO allowed armed ethnic Albanian extremists into the province. He accused Kouchner of virtually severing Kosovo from Serbia's legal, financial and customs systems, which he says feeds the notion of Albanian independence.

"UNMIK has done everything to void Kosovo and Metohija of any Serbian and Yugoslav presence by dozens of regulations."

Annan responded later by saying the UN mission has been forced to take a number of practical decisions to properly administer Kosovo. He said these include issuing license plates, instituting a new currency and establishing identity cards and travel documents. He said they in no way signify a UN endorsement of Kosovo independence.

And Annan repeated the concern voiced yesterday by UN officials about continuing acts of violence against ethnic minorities, many of them Serbs. He said the stabilization of Kosovo requires manpower that has been slow in coming from member states.

"We need to stem the atrocities committed against minority groups. We need to work with the people in Kosovo to establish a full working administration but to do that we need the material support from the member states, in terms of police, in terms of cash, in terms of releasing the right people."

In the meantime, Annan told reporters that he would touch on the question of clarifying Kosovo's autonomy in a report next month that will seek to define Kosovo's role in the Balkans.