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Yugoslavia: UN's Steiner Outlines Goals For Stabilization Of Kosovo

The UN's special representative for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, says he plans to set up a series of benchmarks to measure the province's gradual move toward substantial autonomy. Steiner told the UN Security Council that it is still too early to speak of the final status for Kosovo and he will focus instead on building a stable, economically self-sufficient entity. A top Serbian official later expressed alarm in the council at continuing security problems for Serbs in the province but said he would cooperate with Steiner.

United Nations, 25 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- In his first address to the UN Security Council, the UN's administrator for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, said he is encouraged by the province's moves toward autonomy but that substantial reforms are still needed.

Steiner yesterday outlined what he called a "benchmarks process," which he said will make clear to Kosovo's leaders what sort of political, economic, and social reforms are expected of them.

The benchmarks include the enforcement of the rule of law, freedom of movement, respect for the right of all Kosovars to remain and return, and normalized dialogue with Belgrade. He also called for developing a basis for a market economy and clearing up the issue of property titles.

Steiner said these benchmarks are preconditions for creating a just society in Kosovo and will lead the way toward greater self-sufficiency for the Serbian province, which is dominated by an ethnic Albanian majority. "I offer this to you as an 'exit strategy' which is, in reality, an 'entry strategy' into the European integration process."

Steiner told the council it is still too soon to discuss the final status of Kosovo, despite the formation of a provisional government for the province and the ongoing transfer of authority from the United Nations administration to local institutions.

He said his administration will focus on improving living standards for Kosovars, which is something he said residents of the province have repeatedly stressed in meetings with him. "More than 50 percent of the population is under 23 years old. Young people. What do they want? They want jobs. They want reliable institutions and they want security. These are the issues which we need to address first."

Steiner, a former high-ranking German foreign policy adviser, later told reporters that the issue of Kosovo's final status resembles the debate over European Union expansion during the early 1990s. It was important for candidate countries to begin enacting tough reforms, he said, before a clear timetable on EU accession could be given.

The Security Council resolution establishing the UN mission in Kosovo calls for the mission to oversee the transfer of authority set in motion a political process to determine the province's future status.

Serbia's deputy prime minister in charge of Kosovo, Nebojsa Covic, told the council of his government's concern over the lack of safety for Serbs nearly three years after the UN took over administration of the province. More than 200,000 ethnic Serbs remain internally displaced elsewhere in Serbia and those living in Kosovo live mostly in ethnic enclaves.

Covic listed a range of issues that need to be addressed in dialogue between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders and Belgrade. In addition to the return of displaced Serbs, he cited the need to secure freedom of movement, solve the issue of missing and kidnapped persons, and fight organized crime.

Talking to reporters after the council session, Covic said the issue of final status can only be addressed after life in Kosovo has returned to normal for all ethnic groups. "The independence of Kosovo is not a done deal. We still need a great deal of negotiation and a dialogue for solving our problems in the region. And it is not good that anybody should be nervous when hearing different opinions. That shows a lack of patience, energy, or democratic principles."

Steiner paid particular attention to law enforcement in his comments yesterday. He said he recently signed legislation that allows his administration to take effective measures against corruption.

He said the international police force in Kosovo, in cooperation with NATO-led forces in the province, has taken steps to move against organized crime networks. But he added that authorities were prepared for what he called a "criminal backlash."

Steiner told reporters his administration was also preparing for indictments to be handed down soon against Kosovars by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, based in The Hague.

"If there is an indictment of whomever, and whatever the indictment is for -- whether it's a [Kosovo Liberation Army] member or not -- in Kosovo, if we have an indictment, we will arrest this person. That's our role. We are duty bound to do that and we will do that."

Steiner said that international political, technical, and financial support is crucial to build on the gains made so far in fighting crime and creating institutions. Steiner expressed concern about UN plans to reduce the Kosovo peacekeeping budget. He invited council members to visit Kosovo to see the transformation under way and what remains to be done.

A report from the UN Secretary-General's Office, released yesterday, said a premature disengagement of the international community in Kosovo could lead to a power vacuum and instability that could be filled by extremists.