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Yugoslavia: UNMIK Must Accelerate Its Programs In Wake Of 11 September

The head of the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), Michael Steiner, says the 11 September terrorist attacks against the U.S., the situation in Afghanistan, and the buildup for a possible attack on Iraq have all resulted in a change in the international community's perception about how much longer it can continue to administer Kosovo. RFE/RL spoke with Steiner in Pristina over the weekend and filed this report.

Pristina, 2 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The UN secretary-general's special representative for Kosovo, Michael Steiner, says the war against terrorism means that the time the international community has remaining to accomplish its goals in Kosovo has "shortened dramatically."

"I think somehow you can say that 11 September has changed the perception of the international community [about] how long can you do something here, because it's a globalization of attention. The war against terror which was a consequence of the September events means that the old idea which was there in practically all of the capitals in Europe, also in Washington -- that this [UNMIK] is an engagement for a generation and without a time horizon -- I think this has changed."

Steiner, who made the remarks to RFE/RL in an interview in Pristina over the weekend, says he believes the international community is no longer prepared to remain engaged in Kosovo for another 10 or 12 years. With much less time to stabilize and transform Kosovo, he says, programs have to be accelerated across the board -- in economics, in institution building, and in the rule of law.

Steiner says the acceleration might make the UN administration in Kosovo more efficient and even prove to be a healthy warning for the people of Kosovo not to take international assistance for granted. He says Kosovo will have to compete for limited international resources with other international hot spots. "I think we are in an international beauty contest and that says you will only get the sustained support of the international community if the international community sees it's worth it, it pays."

The UN has administered the ethnic Albanian-majority province of some 2 million inhabitants since shortly after the withdrawal of Serbian security forces and the arrival of NATO-led peacekeeping forces in June 1999.

Steiner says the voluntary return to Kosovo of some 200,000 Serbs and other minority members displaced since June 1999 also will be accelerated. "And they must be ready for return -- both the receiving side and the other side. And you are only ready if you have overcome to a certain extent the traumas from 1999 and before, and for that you need time. You can see that in Bosnia -- return did only happen in greater numbers in minority areas after a certain elapse of time. So, if the time span is too short for our work, we cannot be successful either. So what I am saying is, we need a certain time. We will not be able to change the reality here overnight, but we have much less [time] than people would have thought [before] 11 September."

Steiner says last month's arrests of suspected criminals linked to the disbanded Kosovo Liberation Army, including former commanders, is also part of this acceleration of normalization.

"What concerns the arrests in the recent weeks has to do, of course, also with the fact that now we have the instruments, we have the judges, and we had enough time to prepare these arrests. The machinery had the time. The preparatory work in the judicial framework has been done. It was about to come anyhow, because in the beginning, in '99, we didn't have the means, so it was not possible to do that in a legally sound way."

Steiner warns that the international community must not permit a political vacuum to develop in Kosovo as the result of a hasty withdrawal due to tension elsewhere, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. "At the same time, I have to say that you need to finish the job if you want to avoid events like we had in Afghanistan. You cannot just start the job and then walk away. You cannot just simply throw [then-Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic's troops out [of Kosovo in 1999] and then leave the place, because if you do that, then you have chosen the worst of approaches, a half-approach, which leaves behind a vacuum, which we cannot do because we would be much worse off than we would be without engaging ourselves. That means we need to finish the job here, but the time [available] is much shorter."

Nevertheless, Steiner says Kosovo runs the danger of being an exporter of insecurity, above all to Macedonia, if the international community withdraws and leaves the province in a political vacuum.

He says withdrawing and failing to resolve Kosovo's basic problems, including rule of law, political stability, and the final status of the province, would be a mistake and would come back to haunt the international community.