CEOL - West still struggling for control after six months

PRISTINA, Serbia, Dec 12, 1999 -- (AFP) Six months after bombing Belgrade's forces out of Kosovo, the international community is struggling to cope with the aftermath of 10 years of anti-Albanian apartheid and a vicious war which cost an estimated 10,000 lives.

The UN interim administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), with the aid of some 45,000 international peacekeeping troops and some 300 aid agencies, has been racing against the approaching winter to reconstruct the devastated province.

But their vast task has been hindered by numerous obstacles, from the legacy of vengeance to the province's ruined economic and social infrastructure and regional instability.

One of the main problems is the strict mandate UNMIK has to work under.

The Security Council resolution which on June 12 ended NATO's three-month air campaign against Belgrade's oppression of the majority ethnic Albanians specified that the province remain part of Yugoslavia, whereas most of the population are desperate for independence.

UNMIK chief Bernard Kouchner has made a few steps toward distancing Kosovo from Belgrade, replacing the Yugoslav dinar with the German mark as the province's currency, levying border duties and issuing international travel documents.

The moves have earned sharp rebukes from Belgrade, while the lack of any final status on the horizon has angered Kosovo Albanians.

Another key problem is the desire for retribution for the repression suffered by ethnic Albanians.

Daan Everts, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Kosovo, said this week it would presumptuous of the West to "underestimate or dismiss" the desire for revenge which has led to hundreds of murders.

The OSCE has just released a report cataloguing Belgrade's atrocities against ethnic Albanians, including murder, rape, imprisonment, looting and mass deportation.

But the report also set out crimes against the post-war minorities, mainly Serbs, Roma and Slavic minorities, in which former independence fighters are often implicated in the violence.

KFOR, the peacekeeping force, has admitted it is unable to safeguard all minority members, while Serb leaders have accused it of not doing enough.

"It is unacceptable that when you have around 50,000 international peacekeepers here people are still living in ghettoes in Europe," said Father Sava, a spokesman for the Serbian Orthodox church in Kosovo.

More than 200,000 Serbs are thought to have fled the province since June, while thousands of people of all ethnic groups live in KFOR-patrolled enclaves in areas dominated by a hostile majority.

The situation has been exacerbated by the lack of a functioning legal system. Kouchner has asked for 6,000 international police to patrol the province but has so far received only 1,800.

The judicial system is still hobbled by disputes over which legal code to implement.

While UNMIK has said the Yugoslav law in place before the war should apply, with discriminatory clauses amended, ethnic Albanian judges have started conducting trials using Kosovo's pre-1989 code, scrapped when Belgrade abolished the province's autonomy.

The lack of legal procedure has meant crimes have flourished in a climate of impunity, with kidnappings and attacks rife across the province.

This week saw the first claim of a retribution killing by a vigilante group, who said they had executed an Albanian man whose crime ring had allegedly abducted 42 women and children.

On the material level, the international community has faced a mammoth reconstruction task. Some 120,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the war and aid groups have rushed to provide vulnerable families with winter shelter.

Agencies had distributed 42,600 emergency shelter kits by the start of this month, although the relief convoys have been held up massive bottlenecks at the Macedonian border.

Western sources in Pristina have pointed the finger at Skopje, which they accuse of trying to pressurize the international community into providing more aid for bearing the brunt -- together with Albania -- of the refugee exodus in the war.

In the cities, UNMIK has struggled to set up a shaky heating and electricity network, while phones remain largely useless and traffic chaos still reigns in the province's potholed streets.

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