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Kosovo: U.S. State Department Pushes For Continued Engagement

Two senior U.S. officials have appealed for continued American involvement in Kosovo, against what one called a rising sentiment in the U.S. Congress to disengage. RFE/RL's Lisa McAdams reports the appeal came during a briefing Thursday called, "Kosovo: The Way Forward."

Washington, 24 March 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin and Chris Hill, President Bill Clinton's special assistant on Kosovo, issued an appeal Thursday for continued U.S. engagement in the Serb province.

The appeal comes on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-led NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. It also coincides with increasing debate about what -- if any -- role the U.S. should now play in Kosovo.

Rubin said one year on, the region is reaping the benefits of America's involvement and only stands to gain with a continued U.S. presence. Just because the problems in Kosovo are hard and don't get resolved quickly, Rubin said that does not mean the opponents of engagement should prevail:

"We are far, far better off than we were a year ago. (But) we still have a long, long way to go, and we want to keep engaged, and we want to keep working at it, and not make the best the enemy of the good."

Hill urged a tighter focus on "civilian" issues of the day, such as the holding of democratic elections. He noted that this September, Kosovo's civilian administrator -- Bernard Kouchner -- is planning to hold the first municipal elections for local assemblies. Hill said this would be part of an overall election program, expected to continue in the coming year.

Hill said the elections would be an important first step in transferring what he says will be a real sense of responsibility to leaders in Kosovo. That is a sense that is sorely lacking at present, according to Hill:

"We also feel its very important for all the national communities in Kosovo, including the Serbs, who are the most numerous of the national communities beyond the Albanians, to participate in this process. We had a very good discussion with Bishop Artemije and Mr. Tracovic (on this) and we would very much like to continue this dialogue and to make sure that the Serbs see that, in Kosovo, there is indeed a future for them."

Hill said that after the elections cycle and the building of other democratic institutions, the way would then be clear for a discussion on the more long-standing and still unsettled problem of Kosovo's future status:

"If you look at the Security Council right now, its clear there is no consensus on what Kosovo's eventual status should be. Besides that, there is an awful lot to do in Kosovo. And even those who say that somehow the status question has to be handled now and that independence has to be given now, really have to answer the question, will independence solve Kosovo's problems?' And I don't think it will solve their internal problems, which are enormous in terms of the complete lack of institutions, and the lack of a functioning economy."

Hill added that in his view the question of independence was really a "19th century question" during this "a 21st century of interdependence and globalization."

Meanwhile, officials in Russia -- a traditional Serb ally -- continue to suggest that U.S. and UN officials are favoring Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, including rebel separatists, over Kosovo's ethnic Serb community.

It is a notion wholeheartedly rejected by Rubin, who dismissed the premise as "inaccurate" and "off-base."

"One of the most troubling legacies of this war is the extent to which Russian media cast a blind eye towards Serb atrocities against Albanians. The Russian nation didn't learn what every other country in the world learned from their TV screens and their media. The Russian media didn't cover the refugee camps in Macedonia (and) Albania; (or) the million people who were pushed out of their homes and the thousands who were murdered."

Rubin and Hill agreed that more needs to be done to democratize Kosovo's media, as well, and they said that too will require Americans to "stay the course" in the region.