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UN: Security Council Supports Kosovo Elections, But Russia Dissents

Russia has lodged a strong criticism of the UN administrator in Kosovo and says conditions are not yet right for municipal elections in the province. Other Security Council members defended the administrator and said elections are an important step toward building a democratic society in Kosovo. RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon reports.

United Nations, 25 August 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Russia has stepped up its criticism of the United Nations mission in Kosovo, telling a Security Council session that Special Representative Bernard Kouchner has seized too much authority and is pushing through elections.

Russia's ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, told the council yesterday (Thursday) that the situation in Kosovo remains too unstable for municipal elections, which Kouchner has set for October 28. Lavrov said Serbs and other minorities in the province remain marginalized and intimidated by the ethnic Albanian majority.

The Russian ambassador repeatedly criticized Kouchner for failing to consult with the council on important matters, such as the election date.

"We consider that elections in Kosovo might provoke a new crisis which might pose a threat to regional stability. We think the decision to hold elections should have been taken only after consultation with the Security Council. "

Lavrov's comments followed a statement from the Russian foreign ministry this week that the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, known as UNMIK, was tolerating attacks on Kosovo Serbs. Russia is the strongest supporter of Yugoslavia on the Security Council and has consistently accused Kouchner of exceeding the authority granted in the resolution which set up a virtual UN protectorate in Kosovo.

Representatives of council members China and Ukraine also expressed concerns yesterday about Kouchner's actions, including the recent seizure of a lead smelter in northern Kosovo. UN officials say the plant was pumping unacceptably high levels of pollutants into the air, but Yugoslav and Russian officials charge it is an attempt to undermine the economic viability of Kosovo Serbs.

Still, a majority of council members voiced support for Kouchner's efforts, including the preparations for elections and the closure of the Trepca smelter. The deputy representative of the Britain's mission, Stewart Eldon, said the municipal elections are a key step for what he called "the normalization of a shaken society." Eldon said it is essential that the council help make them successful.

"I cannot agree with the doubts Ambassador Lavrov has expressed about this process, which is designed to help establish the democratic and multiethnic society for which we are, I hope, all working."

UN officials say the vast majority of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority -- close to one million people -- have been registered to vote. They vow to ensure representation by Kosovo Serbs in municipal bodies despite their under-representation in registration. But UN officials are growing worried about the rise in politically motivated violence among ethnic Albanian parties.

The French ambassador to the UN, Jean-David Levitte, said the municipal elections are part of what he described as an "indispensable" phase of institution building in Kosovo. He said they must be allowed to go forward, but that UNMIK and ethnic Albanian leaders need to step up efforts against extremists.

"Reconciliation, of course, cannot be decreed. It is a process that takes time and which must mobilize all efforts. The progress of the last few months is thanks notably to the actions of the special representative. We must consolidate them and not allow the extremists to sabotage the gains made so far."

The comments of council members came after a briefing by the UN's assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping affairs, Hedi Annabi. In response to concerns expressed by Russia and Ukraine, Annabi stressed that the Trebca smelter was only to be closed temporarily while renovations are carried out. He said an initial inspection of the smelter by UN officials showed widespread neglect, lack of safety measures and low worker morale.

Yesterday's council session was also marked by strong protests from the Britain, Canada and the Netherlands over the treatment of nationals who were being held in Yugoslavia on charges of planning to commit terrorist acts. The two Britons being held had been training recruits for a new UN police force in Kosovo. British representative Eldon called the circumstances of their detention a "sad comment" on the ruling regime in Belgrade.